|Fuel cell light-duty vehicles sales, 2015-2020. Source: Pike Research. Click to enlarge.|
According to a new report from Pike Research, commercial sales of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will reach the key milestone of 1 million vehicles by 2020, with a cumulative 1.2 million vehicles sold by the end of that year. The fuel cell car market is now in the ramp-up phase to commercialization, anticipated by automakers to happen around 2015.
Pike Research’s analysis indicates that, during the pre-commercialization period from 2010 to 2014, approximately 10,000 FCVs will be deployed. Following that phase, the firm forecasts that 57,000 FCVs will be sold in 2015, with sales volumes ramping to 390,000 vehicles annually by 2020. These figures represent a downgrade from Pike Research’s previous FCV forecasts published in the first quarter of 2010.
In its report, Pike notes that the fact that fuel cells for passenger cars are still being pursued at all may come as a surprise to some. Pike observes that the “stock” of FCVs has fallen during the past few years in the US and to a lesser degree in Asia Pacific and Europe, as costs have not come down as quickly as originally anticipated and initial commercialization targets have passed. And, in the meantime, battery-electric vehicles are beginning to appear in dealer showrooms.
Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are facing serious competition in the “zero emissions vehicle” space from pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs). BEVs have made a comeback after experiencing their own “trough of disappointment” in the late 1990s. Ironically, this state of affairs led to the initial enthusiasm over fuel cells. When the BEV market failed to take off in the late 1990s, regulators and automakers shifted their attention to fuel cells.—“Fuel Cell Vehicles”
However, Pike says that FCVs are part of the continuum of electric drive technologies, which are projected to capture an increasingly large share of the global passenger car and transit bus markets. For the passenger car market, fuel cells offer the benefits of zero emissions operation without the range and charging limitations of pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
The technology promise of fuel cells has driven as estimated $4-billion investment by automakers, governments and fuel cell companies. The investments aimed to address the main technical and cost challenges to commercially viable FCVs, including: fuel cell stack and system durability; freezing and cold start capability; stack and system costs; driving range; and hydrogen fueling costs.
The Pike report notes that considerable progress in all of these areas has been made, although not at the pace originally projected. There is general agreement among the auto OEMs, Pike says, that the main barrier to fuel cells right now is not performance, but rather cost and infrastructure.
Automakers such as Toyota, Daimler, GM, Honda, and Hyundai have all said that fuel cells are a critical piece of a complete clean vehicle portfolio. With fuel cells, they see the opportunity to offer a zero-emissions car with a 300-mile range in the larger vehicle platforms.—Pike Research senior analyst Lisa Jerram
Jerram adds that, to meet the 2015 commercialization target, automakers will need to spend the next few years validating performance and reducing costs. Early adoption is likely to be focused in Japan, Germany, and California, where there is significant fueling infrastructure planned.
Light-duty. Although fuel cell passenger cars have attracted a significant level of interest and investment, Pike believes that this market is likely to be one of the last to go fully commercial. Based on the current state of battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and conventional hybrids, Pike Research believes that light-duty fuel cell cars will not see true consumer demand until the following conditions are met:
- Costs are significantly reduce;
- Market conditions or regulations place a premium on zero tailpipe emissions or non-petroleum-based fuels; and
- Hydrogen infrastructure is scaled up to meet the demands of fuel cell vehicle drivers.
Fuel cell cars will also need to experience at least one more generational iteration before the 2015 date, Pike suggests. Based on the automakers’s current projections, Pike Research expects there to be a step change in total FCV production numbers in 2015. Top fuel cell automakers will likely begin annual production of around 10,000 FCVs, Pike suggests, and estimates that production will reach just under 58,000 FCVs in 2015.
Up to 2016, Pike expects the FCV market will be only in the tens of thousands—a phase resembling that of the current controlled rollout of BEVs. Early FCV markets will include the US (mainly California and the New York area); Germany; Scandinavia; Japan (mainly Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka); South Korea (primarily around Seoul); and Shanghai, China.
Medium- and heavy-duty. Most of the activity to date in the medium- and heavy-duty sector has been related to transit buses. Development of fuel cells for medium-and heavy-duty trucks has lagged behind development for light-duty vehicles and buses.
Transit fuel cell buses offer zero emissions and low noise operation, as well as greater fuel efficiency than internal combustion engines. Pike Research’s projections are for commercially viable transit buses to follow that of light-duty vehicles (LDVs), with this market more dependent on subsidies or incentives for adoption than the car market.