Is Tesla Edison-ing FCEVs?

First of all, sorry for the clickbait title and all that. Telsa's are amazing vehicles in the here and now and Elon Musk is the most successful dude on the earth for good reason. However both things can be true, at least I believe so. Tesla is as much a cult as any brand has loyalists, or perhaps a tickle more (think Prius owners circa 2005) and Fuel cell EV's are much better for mass-market adoption than Battery EV's. Now you and many other sources may disagree but hear me out:


Tesla (the car brand) changed the public perception and proved the viability of mass-market electrically powered vehicles. Where every other attempt going back to the beginning of horseless carriages tried and failed so credit where it's due for bringing a legit EV to the masses. What was the downfall of every iteration of every prior electric vehicle? Well the range, of course, that and either the inability to recharge at all, battery depletion and recharging. Now we have the ability to recharge and the range pretty well dialed but once the range dilemma was sorted, that left the other gaping chasm recharging the batteries. However, the namesake Tesla (the dude), whose innovation was quelled by another more loudly proclaimed inferior technology, even disparaging the alternate solution, oh boy the irony is palpable. Tesla (the brand) is the kind of Edison to the FCEVs if you really think about it. Tesla (the brand) showed us what was possible with super successful first-generation products, that use what could be considered a less efficient and scalable solution that doesn't quite solve the larger problem. If you drive a Telsa in reverse is it an Edison?


While Tesla's performance is blistering, and the range is pretty incredible, battery electric vehicles cannot sufficiently replace the eternal combustion engine of today for widespread adoption, and I don't think it ever will. Even with Nickel-Ion or whatever is next for battery tech; the issue is storing power vs. creating it on demand and that is where BEVs fail in stepping up to the plate. To be fair to Tesla (the brand), and all other BEVs- neither do the Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles of today. However, the vehicles themselves aren't the shortcoming, it's the infrastructure and cost of producing hydrogen hindering it. If that infrastructure received the same innovation, and attention as either fossil fuels or BEV charging stations Hydrogen would 100% be the fuel of the future and I predict it still is. The FCEV of today does present a better long-term value so long as you fill up today with a nearby(ish) public hydrogen filling station despite costing roughly the same on average as an ICE vehicle. If you consider how much a depreciate used FCEV with virtually no miles cost weighed against an older tesla you have operating cost for 1-2 years in that cost delta and a 5 year newer vehicle. I predict a used Mirai will be as useful in 5 years as it is today if you can really operate it in your area now. Meanwhile used teslas and other BEVs likely will not be. Because batteries degrade over time, and an FCEV is operationally less reliant on the battery altogether, meaning it is smaller and be far less expensive to produce and replace if/when it fails when compared to a BEV.


BEVs seem to me dear reader a bit 1 step forward 2 steps back, even if the infrastructure changed and charging stations were as saturated as the gas infrastructure of today it doesn't circumnavigate the biggest issue surrounding BEVs: It takes a really long time to recharge them. Even if you get phenomenal range, 500 miles+ which is pretty much what is happening today, it's all well and good until you've traveled those miles (or close to as much) and need to recharge. The more range you get, the longer it is going to take to recharge the crazy big batteries. It's an arms race of innovating short-term solutions, tweaking and clinging to a technology that will never quite achieve the goal. Let's say the charging stations are on every street corner- there is still a scale issue due to the amount of time it takes to charge, and the economics of a charging station weighed against the time spent servicing one customer. Even weighing in brick and mortar commerce being done by the waiting driver. The cost will not remain low forever, I believe it will supersede the cost of gas, and hydrogen if it achieved scale. If you extrapolate the demand for charging BEVs and the projected wait times/charging times as if one were owned by every person that owns an ICE car today- that's a chart I'd hate to see. If every car takes between 15, 45 up to 90 minutes at a rapid charging station there's going to be some insane wait times, from waiting your turn to recharge and actually recharging. Right now, Teslas represents only 2.6% of the automotive landscape, and globally regardless of brand, BEVs account for 4.6% of vehicles on the road. And yet you see people today waiting for their turn to plug in at recharging stations or waiting in their vehicle while charging. As evidenced by the number of articles that come out every Holiday season or during crises with photos of long lines at the charging stations. It seems to me that unless charging time is greatly reduced, even at the expense of long-range; BEVs are not better than what they replace- from a purely utilitarian perspective. Barring Social and Environmental arguments, and focusing holistically on the broader scope of all land transportation as opposed to passenger cars separately. Similar to what fossil fuels supported, land, sea, and air travel. If you take this approach to fueling, there are definite limitations to battery-electric, and without broad support, the infrastructure will not scale. I don't really know if that is possible, or if the R&D of all energy concerns are better allocated to Battery tech vs Hydrogen infrastructure when current-generation battery tech works great for mid-distance slow-charging passenger cars.


Tesla is barking up the right tree for the short term, but the wrong one in the long term greater good of all transportation. I could be wrong, you would have to buy fuel for your Model T at a pharmacy LOL. From my point of view, Tesla seems to be innovating around the largest deficiency of the BEV platform. Solving symptoms, while clinging to a technology that probably won't work long term. The range increases are the result of listening to public outcries over total range, which is actually symptomatic of the real issue at play- recharging time. The presupposition is that more range is equivalent to fewer recharges, which makes sense, right? Well, in theory, yes. In practice, it only postpones the inevitable issue and exacerbates it when it achieves scale. Only solving it temporarily- working especially well during a time when market adoption is rather low. The root issue of how long it takes to recharge a BEV is not one that is easily solved. Before you say it, yes you can charge at home, and that does (mostly) solve the issue for the consumer passenger car market for the most part. It does not solve for fleet, taxi/rideshare, commercial, long haul transportation/Supply chain stuff, and land, air, and sea travel. For a large portion of the passenger car market, yes the BEV of today is a sufficient vehicle for what a passenger car needs to do.


One thing that's important to consider regardless of your allegiance, but a huge consideration with the new cars of today, is the used car market of tomorrow. The lack of support for older generation (legacy) products, specifically Tesla might be more guilty of this than others, and the stranglehold they have on their own IP and tech is becoming an issue in the second-hand market. After all half of all cars sold through dealerships are used, likely more in 2021 with the chip shortage and 25% of registered vehicles in the USA are 16 years or older. As Tesla vehicles age and begin to trade hands as used cars more often firmware vs software and planned obsolescence becomes a greater issue and will certainly exacerbate in the long term. Because Tesla is after all a technology company, not a car company take this bit with a grain of salt- this is my opinion piece, I welcome civil discourse if you disagree with me.


Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles or (FCEVs) could still very well represent the best possible outcome for zero-emissions electric vehicles across the whole spectrum of road transportation, and I believe it does. Especially when weighed against the climate, efficiency, and current passenger car preference. With more automakers making carbon-neutral commitments for the near future, a safe presupposition is there will be more FCEVs developed in the next 5 years than there have been in the prior 5. The benefits on paper are numerous; Way faster refills, less range anxiety, and equivalent range to BEVs. FCEVs even outperform current generation BEVs in colder climates. According to a CTE (Center for Transportation and the Environment) study, in 59 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit battery-electric buses lost up to 37.8% of range while fuel cell electric buses lost only 23.1% in the same conditions. The US is largely temperate, with an annual average temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit, and a large portion of the Northern region reaches temperatures well below 32 degrees for up to 1/4 of the year. If FCEVs perform nearly 40% better than BEVs in temperate conditions, why aren’t there more FCEVs than BEVs in colder regions?


In some senses, this lack of adoption is a self-fulfilling prophecy, with very few filling stations and infrastructure, investment in such an infrastructure, and with but a very few manufacturers making hydrogen-powered cars. Coupled with one huge hype beast BEV manufacturer touting their tech as the WAY OF THE FUTURE, very few consumers are aware of FCEVs, their benefits, and with no vehicles in the showrooms, there’s none to buy. So what’s next?


In 2021 we’ve seen a continuation in BEV popularity, increased consumer habit, and propensity towards SUVs and CUVs currently being sold with internal combustion engines. With all the benefits of FCEVs and consumer demand for CUV’s, we’re at the cusp of a major shift in the automotive landscape. While BEV technology is more popular, it is not the best-suited technology for a large portion of the globe where inclement weather is a consumer concern. Also, in vehicles like SUVs, CUVs, Trucks, and 18-wheeler applications where the goal is to traverse all types of terrain or drive across the country, Hydrogen again makes a better case.


Today there are only 3 players in the Hydrogen game Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai at least in the US. Sales are highly regionalized, and the infrastructure is moving at a snail's pace, but it will win out over time. Especially as we welcome the world’s first FCEV SUV: The 2021 Hyundai Nexo, which promises 380 miles per fill-up, filling the hydrogen cell takes just 5 minutes, and it’s backed by a juicy warranty. Hyundai brought the hits in 2021, beating Ford to the punch with the first-ever CUV truck with the Santa Cruz, and a track record of Hydrogen drivetrains in their stable. Currently, the Nexo appears to only offer front-wheel drive. Fortunately, according to recent press releases, BMW promises a hydrogen-powered AWD X5 variant in the iX5 in 2022, and Audi has been promising h-tron for quite some time, but time will tell when, and if they will release anything in the near term. These flirts with Hydrogen promise more adoption and a move to Hydrogen. We've seen the number of filling stations slowly increase over the years as well. It will happen, just give it time lol but in the words of Leonardo D's depiction of Howard Hughes: "THE WAY OF THE FUTURE!"

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