The Race Toward a Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicle

The commonly used adage of, “This car doesn’t run off of air,” was put to the test in 1966 when General Motors Co. produced the world’s first fuel cell vehicle called the Chevrolet Electrovan. Despite the innovation, it was hardly practical. Since then, automakers have spent billions of research and development dollars in a race to create a vehicle that is fueled by the universe’s most abundant element—hydrogen.

And the Winner Is…

In the winner’s circle stands the Japanese automaker, Toyota. At the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show in November, Toyota is scheduled to unveil its first hydrogen fuel cell car and the next-generation Prius, which will both go on sale in 2015.

Symbol for the chemical element hydrogen

As hybrid champion, the Toyota Prius has become the best-selling hybrid in the world, but the seemingly uncharted territory is in fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs. Fuel cells operate by splitting electrons from hydrogen, which generates enough current to silently power the electric motor, leaving behind only water vapor. According to the Department of Energy, FCEVs emit 30-50 percent less toxic greenhouse gases than a gasoline vehicle. Although the vehicle doesn’t produce emissions, the extraction of hydrogen from natural gas accounts for the gases.

Hybrid or Hydrogen?

While Toyota executives only offer tight lips in regards to the FCEVs, the new Prius will allegedly exceed 50 mpg, feature a new wireless charging system, and have a smaller motor and gas engine combination which will be cheaper and lighter than the current Prius. Currently, the gargantuan amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere has caused a depletion in the protective ozone layer, which has resulted in melting polar ice caps and blistering temperatures. Although the damage sustained to the ozone layer is arguably irreversible, Toyota’s perpetual motion of “Moving Forward” will seemingly pave the path toward the promised land of hydrogen efficiency.

Tesla Says, “Hold the Confetti!”

Although Toyota’s FCEVs will make significant strides toward cleaner energy, the fully-electric 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the Tesla Model S, is the perennial party pooper. According to the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, “Hydrogen makes no sense.”

While hydrogen may be clean, hydrogen gas doesn’t occur naturally, and the method of production allegedly requires more energy than can be recovered. Simply put, the end result of a FCEV is the Tesla Model S, without the waste. Even with Toyota’s perpetual “Moving Forward,” the automaker is still steps behind Tesla’s all-electric technology. More impressively, the eclectic and electric Tesla has been bludgeoning its competitors, such as the Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class, BMW 5- and 7-Series, the Porsche Panamera, and the Lexus GS.

All Aboard the Hydrogen Express

While the Model S watches from its all-electric throne, other manufacturers are punching their tickets for the Hydrogen Express and sharing seats. Hyundai is expected to lease 1,000 hydrogen cars beginning in 2015, while Nissan, Ford, and Daimler have formed a triumvirate for a 2017 finished product. Honda and GM have forged a dynamic duo with hopes of a FCEV by 2020. Although the hydrogen-fueled race is hardly over, the semi-friendly competition has rendered a clear winner—Earth.

It’s Not Just the SmartWay, It’s Genius

In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency began the SmartWay program to acknowledge vehicles with fewer emissions. With unparalleled dedication to the environment, DriveTime spearheaded the opportunity to provide greener vehicles and became the first national automotive dealer to implement the SmartWay branding on its vehicles. Impressively, more than 20 percent of the DriveTime.com inventory wears the SmartWay leaf, which guarantees more fuel efficiency, a high EPA air pollution rating, low greenhouse emissions, and the better choice for the environment. While the jury is still out on hydrogen verses electric, the used car company has put an excellent initiative in forward motion.

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