This week, General Motors has been in the news as they scramble to plan for bankruptcy after the US government announced it would not grant their request for a larger financial lifeline. A year ago, however, GM was making headlines (albeit smaller ones) for their Equinox Fuel Cell– technology that promised to make the nearly century-old dream of a hydrogen powered car into reality. There were prototypes premiered and tested, and competitors responded with models of their own. Honda’s FCX Clarity, BMW’s Hydrogen 7 (the latter was announced in 2006!)… More than a year later, despite economic downturn, the question remains: where are these promised cars?
The now familiar rhetoric of reducing dependency on foreign oil starts to seem a bit hollow even to the most optimistic of us when even last summer’s record spike in gasoline prices failed to light a fire under car manufacturers to begin mass production of their hydrogen fuel cell and water electrolysis prototypes, which by all accounts have been fully functional and not overly cost prohibitive. To make matters worse, fuel prices are now relatively cheap and market projections have predicted consumers are unlikely to pay even a little more for a hydrogen or H2O powered car as the ubiquitous recession deepens. There is, however, hope for the future. The Honda FCX Clarity is at least theoretically available–200 lucky drivers will get the chance to lease one for $600/mo. in the next three years. More promising, it seems President Obama has dictated the financial fate of struggling US automakers with one eye on restructuring and the other on resource consumption.
In January, Obama granted a request from CA Gov. Schwarzenegger, asking the EPA to reconsider California’s request to set more stringent emissions standards (a previous request to do so had been denied during the Bush administration). His responses to struggling automakers have often included highlighting the need for more focus on renewable resources. Arguably, we are past the ‘tipping point’ when it comes to the green ‘trend.’ In my estimation, recession or no recession, the public will to fuel the process of sustainability is not going anywhere. With or without US automakers, it is now well-established that ‘green’ product development is almost invariably highly profitable. Generally speaking, the pace of technological change is gaining momentum. Someday soon, I’ll be driving a hydrogen car.