Hydrogen Vehicles in a Dilemma: German Government Moving Forward While Manufacturers Turning Backward

published: 2020-12-15 18:30 | editor: | category: Analysis

Electric vehicles yielded remarkable performance in the market amidst the turbulent 2020, which has invigorated the stock prices of automotive manufacturers to continue to surge in the fourth quarter. However, an awkward predicament has surfaced in Germany regarding whether to continue developing hydrogen fuel cells, where the government and the three major automotive manufacturers have derived a major divergence at the critical intersection.

Putting aside black technology that has yet to be commercialized, the existing technology of electric vehicles is divided into three major sects that comprise of HEV dominated by Toyota, BEV led by Tesla, as well as fuel cell (hydrogen vehicles) focused by Japanese and South Korean manufacturers. As BEV possesses the best energy conversion efficiency, and that hydrogen vehicles are prone to disadvantages of higher difficulties in infrastructure construction apart from the worse conversion efficiency, numerous manufacturers are gradually giving up on the market of fuel cell sedans.

Among numerous automotive manufacturers that have probed into the R&D of hydrogen vehicles, the two major German brands Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz (Daimler) have successively announced this year the suspension in the development of fuel cell sedans. Volkswagen believes that BEV has significant advantages, whereas Mercedes-Benz has shifted the target of fuel cell technology to heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks, garbage trucks, and engineering vehicles.

BMW is the only German brands that has not given up on the R&D of hydrogen vehicles, and that major manufacturers, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and GM, are also in the midst of the R&D process. Let’s not forget that Nikola, who is suspected of fraud, was also one of the prominent figures in hydrogen energy.

As electric vehicles march towards BEV, the Merkel administration has implemented a contrarian approach by launching the “National Hydrogen Strategy”, and compiled a budget of EU€ 9 billion for the investment of hydrogen energy technology. Andreas Scheuer, Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, commented that this program will provide a pristine momentum for the domestic automotive industry, and create substantial amount of job opportunities.

People follow where the money goes. After announcing the hydrogen strategy, the German Association of the Automotive Industry started pitching the application of hydrogen on various transportations to the government and automotive manufacturers, in order to obtain the subsidy from the government.

However, Volkswagen, the most crucial member of the association, had slapped the association without mercy. “The potential of hydrogen and other alternative fuels have been excessively exaggerated, and hydrogen vehicles and trucks are just a joke really”, commented Volkswagen.

A comparison in the energy efficiency between 3 electric vehicles shows that BEV endures the least loss of energy during conversion.

SourceTransport&Environment

Furthermore, another interest group, the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, is also pursuing this EU€ 9 billion subsidy. “Germany will become the leader in the global hydrogen industry, as our industry is able to fully correspond to the value chain of hydrogen, which is substantially beneficial to German and Europe”, commented Hartmut Rauen, deputy manager of the association, who also expressed that sedans will become the largest market of the hydrogen industry. The research institution under the association also pointed out that over 10 million units of hydrogen vehicles will be sold by 2040.

An EU€ 9 billion budget sounds like an enormous amount of money, however, Mercedes Benz has a more pragmatic idea. “The budget for constructing zero emission vehicles is not without limits, and we must centralize all resources on the most efficient technology eventually”, commented Markus Schäfer, CEO of Mercedes Benz, who also pointed out that major automotive leaders had extensively discussed on energy efficiency at the Automotive Industry Summit during July this year, and the total energy consumption of hydrogen vehicles requires 3-4 times the amount of wind turbines compared to BEVs, thus there have been an increasing number of automotive manufacturers that have exited from the particular field.

Hydrogen vehicles had captured the attention of automotive manufacturers with the longer driving range and shorter replenishment time of energy 5 years ago, though the lithium-ion battery technology had experienced a surging growth over the past 3 years, where the driving range for the latest BEVs is now approaching 700km, and the rapid charging power is also on a constant elevation, which further reduces the charging time. In comparison, the black technology of hydrogen fuel cells is only getting exceedingly bewildering.

Germany will become the country of the most hydrogen vehicle sales in the world after 30 years should the government continue to pursue the leading position in the specific field, whereas Taiwan is on its way in becoming the king of fossil fuel vehicles.

 (Cover photo source: BMW)

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