2020 Fuel-Cell Vehicle Sales Forecast Reduced

By Danny King October 11, 2011

MB B-Class PHEV f34.jpg

Global sales of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will grow slower than previously expected as the economic downturn has hindered governments and other public entities from investing in the hydrogen-delivery infrastructure necessary to refuel such vehicles, according to a report by Pike Research, a market research and consulting firm specializing in clean technology. Cumulative FCEV sales will surpass 1 million and will generate $16.9 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade, the newest report said. Those numbers are down from the 2.8 million and $28.9 billion Pike Research forecast for 2020 in February 2010.

FCEVs are viewed as a best alternative-fuels solution because they can provide a single-tank range similar to a conventional vehicle – and about three times the single-charge range of battery-electric vehicles (BEV) such as the Nissan Leaf – while emitting no greenhouse gases. With that in mind, at least eight automakers, including Toyota, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz, are preparing to start selling competitively-priced FCEVs to the public by 2015, while companies including Hyundai are jumping into the fray by developing FCEV concept vehicles. Mercedes-Benz delivered its first B-Class fuel-cell vehicle to a California customer last December as part of a small-scale leasing demonstration project. In August, Mercedes bumped up the expected public launch date for its FCEV by one year to 2014 because of better-than-expected technical advancements.

Still, while countries such as Germany are planning 1,000 stations to support 600,000 FCEVs by the end of the decade, plans in the United States have stalled. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 signed the California Hydrogen Blueprint Plan that set a goal of as many as 100 statewide hydrogen fueling stations by the end of last year with a longer-term phase goal of as many as 250 stations. Just five hydrogen fueling stations now are open in the United States, all of which are in Southern California, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center. The California Fuel Cell Partnership, which includes automakers such as Toyota and Volkswagen as well as Chevron, is projecting about 40 statewide fueling stations supporting 4,000 FCEVs by the end of 2014.

Apart from the B-Class, the Honda FCX Clarity is the only other hydrogen fuel-cell sedan available to the public. That car is available on a limited retail basis in Southern California. Low production numbers have kept per-vehicle costs high, though Ward's Auto reported in August that Toyota has dropped the production cost of the prototype for its hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle to about $129,000 from early costs of about $1 million per vehicle. "The limiting factor for the FCEV market will be the availability of hydrogen infrastructure," said Pike Research senior analyst Lisa Jerram in a statement. "If current plans for station construction are delayed or abandoned, the rollout of FCVs will be similarly pushed back."

That said, Pike is forecasting a rapid ramp-up starting mid-decade. FCEV sales will total about 58,000 vehicles in 2015, indicating that about 950,000 FCEVs will be sold between 2016 and 2020, according to Pike Research. Asia Pacific will account for more than half of the global FCEV sales in 2020, though Western Europe will be experiencing the fastest growth rate by then, Pike Research said.

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