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2013年7月18日 (木)

燃料電池車競争 低価格実現が普及のカギ握る

The Yomiuri Shimbun July 18, 2013
Developing budget fuel cell cars is a key task for automakers
燃料電池車競争 低価格実現が普及のカギ握る(7月17日付・読売社説)

The race among carmakers to develop vehicles powered by fuel cells is heating up. With no direct carbon dioxide emissions, electric automobiles with fuel cells are envisioned as the preeminent next-generation eco-car.

When will the world’s major automakers be able to reduce the price of such a vehicle through mass production? Drivers around the world are keenly watching to see which carmaker will be the first to achieve an affordable fuel cell car.

Honda Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have agreed to jointly develop a fuel cell-powered vehicle. The Japanese and U.S. carmakers hope technical cooperation in such fields as developing the basic system for a fuel cell car will result in a jointly devised system fit for practical use as early as 2020.

Sharing the burden

The Honda-GM tie-up marks a change in their respective strategies for developing fuel cell electric vehicles. The two corporations have been separately working to develop such automobiles in recent years. Their alliance can be seen as an attempt to reduce the otherwise massive financial burden of developing fuel cell cars, while also completing the development project in a shorter period.

The motive behind their decision is a desire not to fall behind alliances formed by their rivals in developing fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG have signed an accord on joint development. Nissan Motor Co. has also said it will carry out a similar project with Renault SA, Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co. The Toyota-BMW tie-up aims at mass production in 2020, while the latter group hopes to reach a similar goal in 2017.

All this means the development race will be bitterly fought by carmakers around the world, including South Korean and Chinese competitors and other corporations unrelated to the Japanese, U.S. and European manufacturers.

The fuel cell vehicle is powered by a motor run by electricity generated through a hydrogen-oxygen reaction. It is comparable to an electric vehicle (EV) in that neither automobile emits carbon dioxide.

Another advantage the fuel cell car offers is mileage. A hydrogen refill for a fuel cell vehicle enables a 500-kilometer drive, nearly twice the range of an EV car. Moreover, refueling takes only three minutes.

About 10 years ago, fuel cell cars were priced at a hefty 100 million yen per unit. Although prices have fallen sharply, a fuel cell vehicle still carries a price tag of about 10 million yen today.

Toyota and Honda are seeking to lower the price to 5 million yen or so. An important challenge facing each car manufacturer is reducing the price through technical innovation. This task also must be complemented by efforts to ensure the safety of such vehicles.

Another key task is to expedite efforts to build more hydrogen stations. Companies in the oil and other industries are planning to set up 100 stations nationwide by the end of 2015. However, that would be too few to encourage the spread of fuel cell car use.

Infrastructure needed

The government’s growth strategy includes a plan to reconsider regulations with regard to the installation of hydrogen stations. It is essential for the government to further support the efforts of related businesses to spread such facilities.

As circumstances stand today, hybrid vehicles (HVs) have become a common choice for ecologically friendly vehicles. The race to develop hybrid cars, which combine an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, has been led by Toyota and Honda. The situation contrasts with the slow progress in the spread of EVs, partly due to the short distance covered by such automobiles for each recharge.

We hope Japanese automakers will strive to improve the performance of HVs and EVs while at the same time stepping up efforts to develop fuel cell vehicles, a move that will provide consumers with more choices for an eco-car purchase. If they can lead the development race, it would do much to shore up Japan’s industrial competitiveness in the global market.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 17, 2013)
(2013年7月17日01時19分  読売新聞)


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