LOS ANGELES — Upstart EV maker Tesla helped its pricey electric cars succeed by providing free battery charging stations to keep them running. Now Honda Motor Co. is borrowing from that tactic to support its forthcoming 2016 fuel-cell electric car.
The automaker announced during a 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show media preview Wednesday that it will fund a $13.6-million loan to FirstElement Fuel to help the independent hydrogen fuel station developer build 12 stations in California.
Honda's move isn't the first by an automaker hoping to build a market for fuel-cell vehicles by concurrently funding fuel stations for them.
Toyota Motor Sales said Sunday that its financing arm will help finance a dozen hydrogen fuel stations in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor that links New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Toyota also has provided California's FirstElement a $7.3 million loan to fund ongoing maintenance and operations of a chain of 19 hydrogen stations in that state.
The two Japanese automakers have been pioneers in development of automotive fuel cell technology — which uses hydrogen and oxygen in an electro-chemical process to create electricity that powers an EV's drive system, replacing the bulky, heavy and expensive rechargeable battery packs. They now are the first automakers to publicly pledge funding support to hydrogen station developers.
It's not a bad strategy. Just as so-called plug-in or battery-electric cars can't go anywhere without a steady supply of electrons from the national power grid, fuel-cell electric cars need a hydrogen supply.
California, which is driving the hydrogen movement with its zero-emissions vehicle mandate, is supporting development of 100 hydrogen stations throughout the state over the next few years but expects private investors to provide part of the funding. The first 28 stations are expected to be ready by the end of 2015.
Details about station construction timetables and locations haven't yet been disclosed.
Separately Wednesday, German automakers Volkswagen and Audi stuck their corporate toes in the hydrogen pond, unveiling concept cars to showcase their fuel-cell technologies. But the companies, part of the giant Volkswagen Group, said they wouldn't be ready to produce fuel-cell cars for the marketplace until costs come down and a hydrogen refueling system is in place.
VW's concept is the Golf SportWagen Hymotion, a fuel-cell electric vehicle, while Audi's is the A7 Sportback h-tron quattro, an all-wheel-drive version of the A7 that uses both a hydrogen fuel cell and rechargeable battery to supply power to an all-electric drive system.
Other carmakers with hydrogen plans include Hyundai Motor Co., which already is leasing a fuel-cell electric Tucson crossover in Southern California, as well as Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and General Motors, which plan to have fuel-cell cars ready in the 2017-'20 time frame.
Edmunds says: Things seem to be heating up on the hydrogen front. At least among automakers.