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March 16, 2015

Few companies are as bullish on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as Toyota, even though the argument in favor of FCVs doesn’t really add up. But things can change in short order, and executives within Toyota are pushing for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to cost about the same as a modern diesel car within the next 7 to 15 years, according to Automotive News.

That timeline comes from Katsuhiko Hirose, the project manager for Toyota’s fuel cell development division. Even though the Toyota Mirai FCV currently costs $57,900 before incentives, Hirose says that the automaker is targeting price parity with diesels within the next 15 years. Of course his bosses want it done in half the time, and Hirose recounts the back-and-forth struggle between engineers and executives, with the suits wanting low-cost FCVs within the next 5 to 7 years. That would be something of a miracle, though I think it’s fair to recount that the cost of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has come down drastically in just the last decade. 

The Honda FCX Clarity cost about $600 a month to lease but about $1 million to build when it first came to market; the Toyota Mirai will lease for about $499 a month. While there are those who say Toyota could be losing six-figures on every Mirai it sells, and the Mirai itself is dreadfully boring, it is fair to say that the price could drop even further over the next decade. While that doesn’t solve the overall inefficiency and emissions problems facing fuel cells, offering consumers a cleaner, capable car for the same price as a conventional diesel could help swing the pendulum in hydrogen’s favor. 

Then again, a lot of analysts expected battery prices to go down much faster than they have. That doesn’t mean the cost per kWh hasn’t been going down; it is. But it’s impossible to actually predict these things, as there are too many variables and unknown unknowns to be able to say one way or another. A lot can happen in 15 years, and even if the costs come down, who’s to say car buyers wouldn’t rather have an EV, despite Toyota’s protestations? 

It’s a great time to be covering the car industry to be sure.

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