While Electric Cars Remain Popular, Nissan Vows Off Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The darling of this year’s LA Auto Show might be hydrogen fuel cell cars, with Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Audi all pushing their latest hydrogen fuel cell models, but Japanese automaker Nissan isn’t about to forsake the joys of electric cars for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

That’s according to Nissan Motor Company Vice Chairman Toshiyuki Shiga, who told The Japan Times last Friday that Nissan is in no rush to enter the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market.

With Nissan having sold nearly 150,000 LEAFs worldwide, the Japanese automaker isn't about to rush to hydrogen fuel cell tech.

With Nissan having sold nearly 150,000 LEAFs worldwide, the Japanese automaker isn’t about to rush to hydrogen fuel cell tech.

“We need to promote the electric vehicle first rather than hydrogen,” Shiga said, adding that while Nissan may one day produce a hydrogen fuel cell car, it only plans to promote hydrogen fuel cell technology “in the long-term future.”

For now, Shiga explained, Nissan is content with plug-in electric cars rather than hydrogen fuel cell electric cars, citing the financial challenges associated with the hydrogen fuel cell economy.

“At the moment we are showing quite good results for the electric vehicle sales,” he said. “We have a quite optimistic view of the future of EV expansion.”

Currently, Nissan builds and sells two different electric vehicles around the world: the all-electric Nissan LEAF family hatchback, and the all-electric e-NV200 van/minivan. But with more than 150,000 LEAFs now sold worldwide and four separate production lines producing electric vehicles around the world, Nissan is the global leader in the electric car market.

That’s something that Nissan is acutely aware of, says Shiga. What’s more, it’s something that Nissan wants to hold on to, with plans to replace the current Nissan LEAF with an all-new, more conventional second-generation model for 2016. With production and sales volumes soaring around the world, Shiga says the days of the electric car are far from over.

Nissan has four separate factories around the world producing all-electric models.

Nissan has four separate factories around the world producing all-electric models.

What’s more, with more countries than ever before embracing the joy of electric cars, Shiga says Nissan is eager to build and design new plug-in electric vehicles for rapidly expanding markets like China.

“The Chinese government is now strongly pushing, promoting to increase EV (sales), especially to reduce air pollution in the country. Maybe there are a lot of opportunities for us to expand,” he said. “We are looking for new Chinese customers and to launch new products which are more focused on the younger generation, the post-’80s generation.”

If Shiga seems happily optimistic about electric vehicles, he’s equally as pessimistic about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Despite an agreement signed last year between Nissan, Ford and Daimler to work on hydrogen fuel cell technology, Shiga says there are just too many hurdles to make them economically feasible. While Nissan can meet all of its U.S. regulatory requirements for zero emission vehicles, he explained, other automakers were having to make limited-production hydrogen fuel cell vehicles instead.

Despite that however, he explained, there were just too many economic challenges to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ready for market.

At the top of those challenges comes the cost of installing hydrogen fuelling stations.

“At the moment, especially in the case of Japan, the cost or investment for a hydrogen station is still quite expensive, even though the government is ready to provide some subsidy,” he said.

Despite other automakers investing heavily in hydrogen fuel cell technology, Nissan is quite happy sticking to electric cars.

One of the challenges facing hydrogen fuel cell cars, says Toshiyuki Shiga, is the high cost of cars and refuelling infrastructure.

And that’s even before the costs of building the hydrogen fuel cell cars was taken into consideration. Even in countries like Japan, where up to ¥3 million is being offered in incentives for each and every new fuel cell car purchased, it’s tough to make hydrogen fuel cell cars economically viable. Meanwhile, Nissan has started to turn a profit on the LEAF after just four years of sales.

“Without government support, it is quite difficult to launch fuel-cell cars now, not only in Japan but also in other countries,” he said. “The electric vehicle is (currently) more economically feasible for the customers.”

Do you agree with Toshiyuki Shiga’s opinion of fuel cell vehicles, or do you think Nissan will miss the boat on hydrogen fuel cell tech? Or perhaps you’re a Nissan LEAF driver who is happy to see Nissan isn’t about to jump ship for an expensive and vastly more complicated technology?

Leave your thoughts and reactions in the Comments below.


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  • Mark Benjamin David

    now I have even more respect for Nissan! …I have 2 things to say here:nnn1) I think Nissan’s electric minivan would do well with commercial fleets here in the US. I see this size vehicle all over the place, with the company’s name & such on the outside of it…all kinds of businesses. I don’t think it would bode well with US consumers, from what I recall, safety ratings not very high. So, rather than change it for consumers in US, they should just port it over to the US for commercial use, they’d sell as many as they can make, I’m sure.nnn2) (In the USA, my perspective) Make no mistake, hydrogen is a big balloon of hype, they need to stick it in rockets and shut up already, we don’t need or want it for any kind of motor vehicle. …While battery EVs are the best alternative for all motor vehicles, and there is no political-ness about this, hydrogen fuel cells are totally a political move against BEVs, backed by the oil industry, and partly by big carmakers that are scared what mainstreaming BEVs will do to their business model. (FYI: look at the one, and only one so far, that I know of, hydrogen fuel pump…it is located at a Shell gas station, with a Shell logo on the pump…that tells all.)

    • dogphlap dogphlap

      Well said.