While Toyota and Honda are investing heavily in hydrogen-powered vehicles, Ford has shifted its attention to electric cars.
Ford announced in 2013 that it was forming an alliance with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology with the goal of releasing a mass-market vehicle in 2017. But Ford CTO Raj Nair told Business Insider that a hydrogen car isn’t on the way this year.
“A lot has changed since 2013,” Nair said. “I think hydrogen fuel-cell technology is a very spikey technology progression and there are times that we feel like we are really progressing fast and then it’s going slow.”
Hydrogen cars are equipped with a fuel-cell system that generates electricity, which powers the car’s motor, by fusing pressurized hydrogen that’s stored in a tank with oxygen in the air. The vehicles have advantages over battery-powered cars: they offer shorter refill times and longer driving ranges.
Ford acknowledges these advantages in a company blog post outlining its hydrogen plans, stating that the vehicles could be “an important long-term solution for improving energy security and diversifying our energy sources.” The company has been working on the technology since 2005.
Still, Ford acknowledged there are hurdles to overcome in its blog: the price of fuel cells and a lack of infrastructure to support the cars.
Nair mentioned both those hurdles when explaining why Ford was shifting its hydrogen plans in favor of battery-powered vehicles.
“Clearly on the hydrogen side, it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg,” he said. “For the infrastructure you put in, they need to see some bite on the technology, but the challenge on the technology is, ‘will the infrastructure really be there.'”
There are currently 15,960 electric charging stations in the US, but only 35 hydrogen stations, according to the US Department of Energy. The large majority of hydrogen stations (33 to be exact) can only be found in California.
Honda and Toyota are independently working with regulators to increase the number of stations in the Northeast so they can release their hydrogen cars in states like New York and Connecticut. But there’s still a long way to go.
Nair said that hydrogen fuel cells could make more sense on heavy duty vehicles that can’t afford to be weighed down by large batteries. Toyota is currently testing a hydrogen-powered, 18-wheeler in the Port of Los Angeles.
Nair added, however, they he still has more faith in battery tech at this point.
“On the passenger side, I’m probably more bullish on the battery electric side than on fuel cells,” he said. “But we are still investing and we are still doing research, and it’s still something that we are very interested in.”