Posts

Toyota predicts a non-gasoline future

Toyota threw in its lot with the alternative vehicle crowd when it predicted that gasoline and diesel engines will be virtually extinct by 2050. Kiyotaka Ise, senior managing officer of the world’s best-selling automaker, said that gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel-cell vehicles and electric cars will account for most of its auto sales by mid-century.

Read more

Whatever happened to the Toyota Prius?

Eighteen years ago it was stylish beyond belief, the car that was going to lead us out of the Age of the Internal Combustion Engine and into a green future.

Today the Prius has become somewhat dowdy, a tree-huggers’ car that’s trying to boast great gas mileage at a time when gasoline is about $2.30 a gallon.

“The Prius look is dated and a bit quirky,” Akshay Anand, an analyst Kelley Blue Book, told The New York Times. “The Prius has enormous brand equity, but it needs to be more than just a high-mileage vehicle.”

The collapse of oil prices has not been kind to gas-electric hybrids. Their 50-miles-per-gallon performance, which once doubled that of most models, is now being challenged by standard cars that get 40 mpg without electricity. Hybrids “have gone mainstream,” writes Alex Davies of Wired. “They’re no longer radical, or even all that different.”

As a result, Prius sales have suffered. In 2006 Toyota sold 150,000 of them, and the company overtook General Motors as the largest auto maker in the world. Now that honor goes to Volkswagen, which has a wider variety of hybrids and other fuel-sipping models. Sales of the Prius were down 16.8 percent during the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period last year. Although brand loyalty is still significant, there doesn’t seem to be much headroom for future improvement.

But that may be about to change. Last week on the roof of the Linq Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Toyota roustabouts hoisted a 2016 model 60 feet in the air in front of a crowd of journalists and auto analysts in order to launch a sexy new version of the Prius designed to attract a new generation of followers.

The four-door sedan has a stylish look that has no hint of fuel economy about it. Davies wrote in Wired: “The edgy (and, really, this car is nothing but edges) new look is an effort to stand out again, to reinvigorate sales of a model that has seen its popularity slip in a market that doesn’t place as great a premium on fuel economy.”

Toyota officials believe they have turned a corner. “Now we have a car that’s not just for mom and dad, tree-huggers and people on a budget,” said David Rodgers, vice president of two Toyota dealerships in Northern California. “This is what America’s been waiting for – a hybrid car with edge. It’s something the kids will want to drive.”

The fuel efficiency is still there. Toyota says the model will get 55 miles per gallon, and it still has the best co-efficient of drag in the industry. But with so much competition from similar brands, the company is going to have to rely on other factors as well.

If the early returns from journalists are any indication, Toyota may succeed. “Though we haven’t yet seen a reasonably priced alternative to the Prius, there’s usually not a lot of crossover between hybrid people and electric vehicle people,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “The Model 3 and the new Chevrolet Volt will be increased competition, but there are still Prius loyalists.”

The coming release of the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 and the rejuvenated Chevy Volt should give Toyota plenty of concern. A decade ago the Prius represented 52.4 percent of the alternative-vehicle market. Last year the figure had fallen to 33.5 percent.

Prius-tail2One of the biggest things working against the Prius had been, as one observer put it, “it is no fun behind the wheel.” Stylishness was deliberately prosaic because ownership was a statement of frugality. Now all this has changed. When the Prius arrives in showrooms early next year, the improvements built into the car will “lift it from its mundane, efficiency-focused past and put it before the eyeballs of a wider audience of buyers,” wrote Mark Vaughn of Autoweek.

“Our biggest complaint about the previous Toyota Prius has been the driving experience, which is only slightly less exciting than reading a dictionary,” writes Aaron Gold in Consumer Reports. “We’re pleased to see the styling of the 2016 Toyota Prius has taken on more personality, and we like the idea of better fuel economy. The promise of more driver involvement is intriguing, but then again, Toyota’s definition of fun-to-drive doesn’t necessarily match ours. We’re optimistic, but to find out whether the new Prius will address our most serious complaints—too much noise and not enough fun—we’ll have to wait until we buy one for a full road test.”

Finally, Steve Siler of Car and Driver says: “… the styling evokes the futuristic hot mess that is the hydrogen-powered Mirai, although it’s not nearly as hideous. Say what you will about the overall design, but those taillights are pretty amazing. Welcome back, tailfins!”

Most important, the Prius revival may extend well beyond Toyota’s fortunes. As Edmunds.com analyst Jeremy Acevedo put it: “With the aged outgoing model and low gas prices dragging down sales, the 2016 Prius will be a much-needed shot in the arm for not only Toyota, but the entire green car segment.”

Related posts:

What caused EV sales to go off a cliff in July?

The hydrogen car finally takes shape

Tesla approaches a moment of truth

U.S. is trailing the rest of the world on EVs

 

 

Toyota, California go for hydrogen

California, the home of Elon Musk and his Tesla venture, is about to embark on another technological initiative as well — a car driven entirely by hydrogen.

In late February Toyota began producing and selling the Mirai (the name means “future”), a hydrogen-powered vehicle that will be available in Tokyo this year and go on sale in the U.S. in December. Always conscious of its history and ready to make amends, Toyota made the announcement five years to the day after it testified before Congress about a sudden accelerator problem that caused the company a great deal of embarrassment and led to a recall. “Every Feb. 24, we at Toyota take the opportunity to reflect on the recall crisis, doing everything we can to ensure its lessons do not fade from memory,” company CEO Akio Toyoda said. “For us, that date marks a new start.”

To say that Toyota is being cautious in entering the hydrogen car market would be an understatement. The Mirai won’t even be mass-produced but is being hand-crafted by Japanese workers who are turning out three cars per day. The model will sell for $57,000 in Tokyo and is not designed to take off like a rocket. The company only plans to sell 2,000 individual models in Japan this year. “The Mirai program, especially once all the research and development costs are factored in, is clearly unprofitable at this point, and even selling a few thousand units at $57,500 each is not going to turn the tide,” the Motley Fool’s Alexander MacLennan wrote. “But the Mirai is not about short-term profits; it’s about long-term market advantage through brand acceptance and technological development resulting in better vehicles.” Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got into the act, saying we are headed into a “hydrogen era.”

Right now Toyota’s main rival as an alternative to gasoline will be Elon Musk’s all-electric Tesla Model 3. Musk is not taking the challenge lightly. He has called the hydrogen car “an extremely silly idea” and mocked its fuel cells as “fool cells.”

But Musk might have reason to worry. The Mirai will offer drivers a range of 300 miles and take only three minutes to fill its tank. Tesla’s Model 3, due out in 2017, will offer only a 265-mile range and consume 40 minutes to offer an 80 percent recharge of its batteries. (Ideally, EVs should be recharged overnight.) Of course, the big test will be the availability of refueling stations, and here electric vehicles have a big head start. Tesla already has 393 Supercharging stations nationwide and is building them out as fast as possible.

There are only a dozen hydrogen stations now, all of them in California, as a result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “hydrogen highway” initiative of 2004. But California has seized the gauntlet again and is promising to spend another $20 million in building out the Hydrogen Highway with 28 new stations in the next few years. The Mirai will be initially aimed exclusively at California and its requirements for zero-pollution vehicles, then try to expand to the East Coast as well. Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered Tucson is already being sold in California.

Where Toyota and Tesla have found agreement is in opening up their patents to rivals to try to promote the technology. Musk famously made his EV patents available last year, and now Toyota is doing the same with its hydrogen research. The obvious aim is to get other manufacturers involved in order to increase the demand for fuel outlets. “We think this is a different way to look at the market and collaborate and hopefully with this get a lot more people coming into the game,” Nihar Patel, Toyota’s vice president of North American business strategy, told Forbes.

Still, the switch to hydrogen vehicles has some challenges ahead. Musk’s main criticism — echoed by many others — is that hydrogen fuel is too difficult to handle and transport. Hydrogen is, after all, the smallest molecule and leaks through everything. One of its biggest critics is Joseph Romm, who worked in the Clinton administration promoting the technology and finally became so disillusioned that he wrote a book critical of the technology called The Hype About Hydrogen. Romm is now a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress and heads the Climate Progress blog. Another problem with hydrogen, of course, is that it is not available as a free resource but must be manufactured from other resources, principally natural gas. This, of course, requires costs and energy.

Still, hydrogen vehicles have the advantage of producing no air pollution (its exhaust is water vapor) and will be able to reduce the release of carbon into the atmosphere, since the CO2 is easily captured in the reforming process. Overall, hydrogen is likely to be a big plus for the environment.

It also offers car buyers what may be the most important factor in reducing our foreign oil dependence — free choice. It hardly matters if electric vehicles prove to be more popular than hydrogen vehicles or vice versa. The important thing is that they will both be available as alternatives to gasoline-powered cars. They could also open up the door to other alternative fuels: compressed natural gas, E85, and the dark horse of them all, methanol manufactured from natural gas. All these alternatives cannot help but make a dent in our current dependence on foreign oil.

Tesla going full speed ahead, but it has competition

Shrugging off any concern about falling gas prices, Tesla is planning to have its medium-priced Model III on the road by 2017. If it meets with anything like the reception of the 2014 Model S, Tesla will be in good shape.

Auto reviewers were ecstatic about the Model S, saying it put Tesla in a class by itself. As Ali Aslani wrote on MasterHerald.com:

If you think electric cars are slow and wretched creatures, you obviously haven’t seen the 2014 Tesla Model S. This vehicle is a beast on wheels that will make you forget half your life’s problems, until you look down at the dash and remember that you cannot pull up to a gas station for refueling, once you run out.

That refueling is becoming less and less common, however, as Tesla’s battery technology has pushed the range for its vehicles to 400 km, or 250 miles. It’s enough for a good commute to work. And recharging stations are becoming more common as Tesla and other auto manufacturers push to have them installed.

What really turns on car enthusiasts, however, is the acceleration possible with an electric motor. Alex Kerston posted a video on CarThrottle.com, in which a user who normally drives a Lamborghini Aventador has just ridden in the 691-hp Model S P85D:

The acceleration is ridiculous. I daily drive an Aventador and I thought I got used to fast acceleration. But no. … As a passenger, you do not get a chance to get ready for it at all. My internal organs were glued to the back of my body. … after about a dozen of those 0-60 accelerations, I felt like I had to puke – probably the first time I’ve felt this way in many years.

The question is, is this the kind of performance ordinary drivers are looking for? The Model III will weigh 1,000 pounds more than the Model S and therefore won’t be in the same class as the roadsters. But at $35,000 to $50,000, it will still be in the higher class of buyers. With all the inconveniences of recharging and being a first mover in the electric field, it will be a wonder if the Tesla standard model will be able to reach the 500,000 sales mark at which the company is aiming.

Meanwhile, other auto manufacturers are not standing still. Last week, Volkswagen, the largest auto company in the world, reportedly bought a stake in the Silicon Valley battery manufacturer QuantumScape, which gives VW access to a technology that could potentially deliver far more range that Tesla’s 400 km. QuantumScape’s solid-state batteries also carry a smaller risk of fire than the lithium-ion batteries used in many electric vehicles, including Tesla’s. Hybrid technology leader Toyota has been developing comparable technology since at least 2010, and EV leader Nissan has been promising similar developments. By the time Tesla comes to market with its lithium-ion-driven Model III, it could end up looking downright conservative in its technology.

Volkswagen’s investment in solid-state batteries is especially interesting, since at one point it was actually copying Tesla’s approach to EV battery technology. In 2009 and 2010, Volkswagen was working with Tesla co-founder Marin Eberhard on Tesla’s cylindrical-style lithium batteries but rejected the technology as too complex when it brought the e-Golf to market. Now Volkswagen is looking to leapfrog Tesla into solid-state technology.

Volkswagen Group is planning a short-term offensive against Tesla. It will bring out the $100,000 electric R8 sports car to compete with the Model S. Also in the works is the forthcoming Q8 crossover coupe. Both cars will be produced by VW’s Audi subsidiary.

Other manufacturers are taking aim at Tesla’s share of the $100,000 electric sports-car market. BMW is likely to add more products to its electric “I” brand and has unveiled an electric powertrain that it’s calling the “Tesla killer.” Porsche, also owned by Volkswagen Group, is said to be planning an electric version of a smaller sedan, code-named the Pajun. Former Tesla investor Mercedes-Benz is also working on an electric version of its flagship S-Class vehicles.

The takeaway is that powerful electric vehicles with a suitable range are no longer going to be a luxury item. If Tesla is successful in breaking through with the Model III, it’s going to be followed quickly by competitors in the same class and perhaps with a different technology.

Natural gas vehicles take the halfway route

In the early 1990s, California tried to force the introduction of electric cars by requiring that auto companies produce a zero-emissions vehicle in order to remain in the state. The result was Chevrolet’s EV1, which everyone agreed was the best electrical vehicle that could be built at the time. Owners loved them, but somehow the effort didn’t take off.

The infrastructure simply wasn’t in place. The car only had a 70-mile range and drivers spent much of their time worrying about their next charge. Many EV1s ended up on the lots of rental agencies where they attracted little attention. All this, of course, was interpreted by some people as the fault of the oil companies and the auto industry, which didn’t push the case hard enough. The award-winning documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” made this argument.

Then three years later, Toyota introduced the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that gave drivers some breathing room. It was a spectacular success. By not trying to make the technological transition in one giant leap, the Prius introduced drivers to the advantages of electric propulsion without asking them to sacrifice anything in terms of a nerve-wracking search for a refill. In fact, when Toyota brought out the Prius it deliberately left off a home charger so that buyers would not associate it with the failed EV1. Not until several years later did the company release a plug-in hybrid. In both cases, the Prius has been the most successful of all hybrids.

Natural gas vehicles seem determined to avoid the same mistake. This year both Ford and General Motors are releasing commercial NGVs in their light-truck and sedan lines. But they are taking care to make them bi-fuel vehicles that run on both gasoline and natural gas, although they are expensive. (Both companies have been making tri-fuel — gasoline, ethanol and CNG — for many years in Brazil.) 

First out of the box will be the immensely popular Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra, both full-sized pickups that sold 480,000 and 184,000 last year, respectively, the highest sales mark since 2007. GM is offering bi-fuel versions for every cabin configuration. The 2015 model will offer a 16-gallon gasoline tank and a 17-gallon-equivalent compressed natural gas tank. When both are filled, the truck will have a remarkable range of 650 miles.

Along with that, GM will be releasing a bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala to introduce ordinary drivers to the advantages of natural gas. The Impala will feature an 18.5-gallon gasoline tank and a 7.7-GGE CNG tank. The result will be a 500-mile range.

Not to be outdone, Ford has already introduced a bi-fuel version of the immensely successful F-150 half-ton pickup truck. Released only last November, the company managed to sell 15,000 vehicles across eight models in 2013. That beat 2012 sales by 25 percent. When combined with its conventional gas tank, the CNG boost gives the F-150 an astounding 700-mile range, beating the Silverado by 100 miles. Unfortunately, the price differential for all these NGV models will be about $10,000.

But motorists could see a 2-3-year payback if the price gap between gasoline and its natural gas equivalent holds up. Right now it has settled around $1.50 gap per gallon and has remained there for almost five years. Give motorists the opportunity to save almost half the price on a gallon of gas is bound to make the new bi-fuel models more attractive.

Other developments are also moving in the direction of a transition to natural gas for high mileage vehicles. In 2012, ARPA-E, the federal government’s program for advanced energy research, awarded $2.3 million to GE Global Research, Chart Industries and the University of Missouri to design a gas refueling station for homeowners. GE already makes a $5,000 medium-sized refueling kit for commercial businesses called “CNG in a Box” that takes gas out of the utility pipes and compresses it for fleet vehicles. The target price for the scaled-down homeowner version is $500. The consortium has set a release date for later this year, at which point we’ll find out if they’ve been successful. The launching of such a cheap conversion system that would allow homeowners to tap the natural gas pipes in their house to refuel their cars would revolutionize the whole NGV effort.

Of course there’s always another possibility — converting our abundant natural gas supplies to ethanol or methanol that would fit right into our current gasoline delivery system. Switching to liquids would not require a new on-board gas tank but would simply involve adjusting existing engines so they could run on a variety of liquids — the “flex-fuel” system. Giving motorists the widest variety of choices would let them experiment with different strategies without having to make a giant leap over some technological chasm. That’s what California learned twenty years ago when it tried to rush the introduction of the electric car and the lesson still holds good today.

Toyota Embraces Hydrogen

Toyota is the world’s most successful car company. The Prius is the most popular gas-electric hybrid ever, with 3 million sold in 80 countries worldwide. Toyota can be said to have pioneered the first vehicle that has challenged the traditional internal combustion engine.
So why is the Japanese giant now moving away from hybrids and placing its bets on the hydrogen fuel cell?
It’s a tough question. Not many analysts can see the sense of it. Elon Musk dismisses the whole idea as “fool cells” and says it can’t succeed. Yet, Toyota maintains that there are inherent advantages in the technology that will eventually emerge. Most of all, the decision by Toyota, Honda and Hyundai to go with hydrogen instead of electric vehicles has set off a fierce debate on which technology — if either — represents the better route to replacing the internal combustion engine.
It is not as if this is a snap decision for Toyota. In 1992, the company set up two task forces — one to investigate the gas-electric hybrid and one to pursue the hydrogen vehicle. In 1997 the Japanese giant introduced the Prius, which has gone on to become one of the most successful models of all time. But work never stopped on the fuel cell project. Now, as company officials reportedly believe hybrid technology may have reached the point of diminishing returns, they feel it is time to move on to something new. “Of all the advanced power train systems we have in our portfolio,” Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter told Green Car Reports, “we see hydrogen fuel cells as being the no-compromise, primary-option vehicle for the next 100 years.”
All this is happening, of course, at the moment when Tesla seems to be proving that electric vehicles can go head-to-head with gas-powered cars. So the question is, what does Toyota see in hydrogen that can’t be achieved by following up with electrics?
Range is one answer. Toyota is still convinced that electric vehicles will never get beyond the 150-200-mile range that most EVs now achieve — although Tesla is already pushing toward 300. The new Toyota Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) that will go on sale in California next summer will have a range of 300 miles, with hopes of future improvement.
Even more important than range is refueling time. A fuel-cell vehicle can fill up at a hydrogen pump in ten minutes — still significantly longer than gasoline — but an EV takes from four to six hours. Even the new “superchargers” that Musk is installing around the country take 20 minutes to give a half-charge. But Musk is also working on a battery-pack replacement that would be faster than a gasoline fill-up.
Of course all this is predicated on having “filling stations” available, and on that score, hydrogen is even further behind. There are only 60 such facilities in the entire country. Tesla just announced its 100th supercharging station in April and that’s just a small part of the action. Most EV owners recharge at home and the electric grid is everywhere. Providing hydrogen around the country would require a whole new infrastructure.
Joseph Romm, who once promoted hydrogen cars as Assistant Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton and later wrote the book, “The Hype About Hydrogen,” remains one of the fiercest critics of the technology. “Hydrogen is the smallest molecule and escapes almost any container,” he wrote in his blog, ThinkProgress. “It makes metals brittle. It is almost impossible to transport. These are physical barriers that will be very difficult to overcome.”
Another surprising aspect of hydrogen is that it is not particularly cheap. Unlike EVs, ethanol or methanol made from natural gas, hydrogen does not offer consumers any financial incentive. At the J.P. Morgan Auto Conference in New York last week, Senior Vice President Carter admitted that a full tank of hydrogen needed to carry the driver 300 miles will cost $50, slightly higher than ordinary gasoline. By contrast, the owner of a Prius only pays $21 for the same trip, and the owner of a Tesla Model S would pay $9.60 at off-peak rates. It’s hard to see how there is going to be any appeal to consumers.
Now it must be admitted that much of the fierce debate taking place on the Internet concerning fuel cells vs. EVs revolves around reducing carbon emissions rather than freeing ourselves from foreign oil. EV advocates imagine a grid running on wind and solar energy while H2 partisans envision windmills and solar collectors turning out prodigious amounts of hydrogen. Other environmental critics have argued that without a larger component of non-fossil-fuel sources generating the electricity, converting to electric vehicles will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions, although some people disagree with all this.
It sometimes seems as if we are trying to accomplish too many things at once. Putting more FCVs and EVs on the road would definitely move us toward energy independence. The source of the hydrogen or electricity can be sorted out later, and the same goes for methanol and ethanol as a liquid substitute for gasoline. These fuels might originally come from natural gas, but renewable sources such as landfill gas and manure piles could be substituted later.
The important thing is to keep moving forward on all fronts. No one knows when some vast new battery improvement or an entirely different method of extracting hydrogen may prove to be a game-changer. Toyota is doing this by pursuing the fuel cell vehicle — even though for the present the odds seem slightly stacked against it.

 
“Toyota FCV-R Concept WAS 2012 0629″ by Mariordo – Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Japan bets big on hydrogen fuel cells

Remember when Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) used to sit atop the Japanese industrial complex, steering it like some giant Godzilla hovering over the entire world?

Those were the days when Japan’s government-industry partnership was supposed to represent the future, when Michael Crichton wrote a novel about how Japan would soon devour America, when pundits and scholars were warning that we had better do the same if we hoped to survive – before, that is, the whole thing collapsed and Japan went into a 20-year funk from which it has never really recovered.

Well those days may be returning in one small part as METI prepares to direct at least half the Japanese auto industry into the production of hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars.

“Japanese Government Bets the Farm on Fuel Cell Vehicles” ran one headline earlier this month and indeed there’s plenty at stake for everyone. The tip-off came at the end of May when Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota’s North American operations, told Automotive News that electric vehicles are only “short-range vehicles that take you that extra mile…But for long-range travel, we feel there are better alternatives, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and, tomorrow, fuel cells.” The target here, of course, is Tesla, where Elon Musk appears to be making the first inroads against gasoline-powered vehicles with his $35,000 Model E, aimed at the average car buyer. Toyota was originally in on that deal and was scheduled to supply the batteries until it pulled out this spring, ceding the job to Panasonic.

But all that was only a preview of what was to come. In early June, METI announced it would orchestrate a government-private initiative to help Toyota and Honda market fuel-cell vehicles in Japan and then across the globe. Of course that leaves out the other half of Japan’s auto industry, Nissan and Mitsubishi, pursuing their version of the EV, but maybe the Japanese are learning to hedge their bets.

The hydrogen initiative will put the fuel-cell vehicle front-and-center in the race to transition to other forms of propulsion and reduce the world’s dependence on OPEC oil. Actually, hydrogen cars have been in the offering for more than twenty years. In the 1990s soft-energy guru Amory Lovins put forth his Hypercar, a carbon-fiber vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells. In 2005, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger inaugurated the “Hydrogen Highway,” a proposed network of hydrogen filling stations that was supposed to blanket the Golden State. Unfortunately, only ten have been built so far, and there are still no more than a handful of FCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) on the road. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and VW all have small lines but none are marketed very aggressively in the United States.

This time, however, there may be a serious breakthrough. After all, Toyota, Honda and METI are not just in the business of putting out press releases. Toyota will begin production of its first mass-market model in December and Honda will follow with a 5-passenger sedan next year. Prices will start in the stratosphere — close to $100,000 — but both companies are hoping to bring them down to $30,000 by the 2020s. Meanwhile, GM is making noises about a fuel-cell model in 2016 and South Korea’s Hyundai is already unloading its hydrogen-powered Tucson on the docks of California.

What will METI’s role be? The supervising government ministry promises to relax safety standards, allowing on-board storage of hydrogen at 825 atmospheres instead of the current 750. This will increase the car’s range by 20 percent and bring it into the 350-mile territory of the internal combustion engine. Like the ICE, hydrogen cars can “gas up” in minutes, giving them a huge leg up on EVs, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes with superchargers to eight hours with household plugs. METI has also promised to loosen import controls so that foreign manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz can find their way into Japan. And, of course, it will seek reciprocal agreements so Toyota and Honda can market their models across the globe.

So will the one-two punch of government-and-industry-working-together be able to break the ice for hydrogen vehicles? California seems to be a particularly ripe market. Toyota is already the best-selling car in the state and the California Energy Commission is promising to expand the Hydrogen Highway to 70 stations by 2016. Still, there will be stiff competition from Elon Musk if and when his proposed Gigafactory starts turning out batteries by the millions. Partisans of EVs and fuel-cell vehicles are already taking sides.

In the end, however, the most likely winners will be consumers who will now have a legitimate choice between hydrogen vehicles and EVs. It may be a decade or more before either of these technologies makes a significant dent in our oil consumption, but in the end it will be foreign oil providers that will be feeling the pain.