Herbert Diess, CEO of German automaker Volkswagen, has struck down any thought that his company will take the hydrogen fuel cell path, claiming in an interview with Financial Times that the technology will never work well enough to deliver on the promise of an alternative clean energy source to battery power.
“You won’t see any hydrogen usage in cars,” said Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess, speaking to the Financial Times last week, adding that the idea of a big market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is “very optimistic.”
“Not even in 10 years, because the physics behind it are so unreasonable,” Diess said.
Of course, Diess has overseen a €35 billion push by Volkswagen into electric vehicles, making it somewhat unsurprising that he would take a shot at a rival technology.
Elon Musk has been doing the same thing for years now, claiming earlier this year that hydrogen is “a big pain in the arse, basically.” Musk’s comments were offered on a company earnings call in late January, in which he also suggested that “propane or something like that or methane” would be “way better than hydrogen”.
The thread of Musk’s argument unsurprisingly ended in his claim that “we’re extremely confident that we can do long-range trucking with batteries …. if you do it right. You basically have no effect on your payload, or almost nothing, and you can have a long-range truck.”
Of course, Tesla, and now Volkswagen, are not the only companies to swear off hydrogen fuel cell technology, with Mercedes also shelving its plans last year, BMW maintaining only minimal interest, and PSA’s Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Stellantis, recently suggesting to the Financial Times that “most of the people who have pushed for the hydrogen-powered cars are the ones who are late in the electric vehicles”.
The same cannot be said for Europe’s rivals in Asia, with Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai both continuing to invest heavily in hydrogen vehicles.
VW’s Diess nevertheless remains unconvinced, explaining to the Financial Times that a hydrogen fuel cell “has an efficiency of 70%” because it requires a “buffer” battery to transmit its energy to the vehicle.
“You can’t ramp the fuel cell up and down like a combustion engine,” Diess continued. “So you need another 10kW battery, you need an electric engine, and you need to run the fuel cell.”
One of the primary focuses for companies considering hydrogen as a transport fuel has been for long-haul trucking, but even this doesn’t convince Diess of hydrogen’s value.
“A truck is really prone to cost per kilometre, load per kilometre,” Diess said, “and hydrogen is so expensive that you would triple the cost per kilometre against an [electric] truck.”
Again, it’s worth remembering that Diess’s Volkswagen group includes truck brands MAN and Scania, and the company has poured billions into developing battery-powered trucks.
Just last September, Scania launched an electric truck boasting a 250-kilometre range, as well as a hybrid electric truck with an electric range of 60 kilometres.
Former ‘Top Gear’ host James May recently sold his favourite car, a hydrogen fuel cell Toyota Mirai, based solely on the fact that, in the UK, there aren’t enough hydrogen fuel cell stations.
“When I first had this car there were eight hydrogen stations in the whole of the UK and I mean the whole of the UK, even including the bits that would rather they weren’t part of the UK like Scotland and Wales and South Yorkshire,” he said in a DriveTribe video published on Sunday.
“And even today there are only 11 hydrogen stations, making it very difficult to use this as your only everyday car.”