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Tesla Trumps Toyota 3: Why Electric Vehicles Are Beating Hydrogen Cars Today

While electric vehicles (EVs) have experienced a marketplace renaissance in the last decade, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) have not. Multiple models of EVs (like the Tesla and Nissan Leaf) and plug-in EVs (like the Chevy Volt) are selling in this country and around the world, but there are no commercial consumer FCVs yet.

Moreover, at least two major manufacturers – Tesla and GM — are in pursuit of the “Holy Grail” of EVs, an affordable (around $30,000) 200-mile range electric vehicle. One of the big reasons is steadily declining battery prices (see top chart).

But the reason that EVs have been kicking FCV butt is more complicated, since fuel cells have also seen declining costs. To fully explain why EVs are winning now and why they are likely to keep winning for the foreseeable future — and why climate hawks should view that as good news — we need to understand why, until very recently, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) haven’t had much success.

A significant literature has emerged to explain that lack of success by AFVs — as I discussed in my 2004 book, “The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate” and 2005 journal article, “The car and fuel of the future”

There have historically been seven major (interrelated) barriers to AFV success in the U.S. market:


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