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Ghosn Echoes Musk in Questioning Viability of Hydrogen Cars

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn
“I would be very curious and interested to see competitors who say they are going to mass market the car in 2015,” said Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co., an early proponent of electric vehicles who also heads Renault SA. “Where is the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it?” Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said consumers won’t take to fuel-cell vehicles before the decade’s end, joining Tesla Motors Inc.’s Elon Musk in questioning the future of hydrogen-powered cars.

Such vehicles only have a few locations to refuel and the required infrastructure would be prohibitive to build, according to Ghosn, echoing similar comments by Musk last month. Nissan is pushing back its plans for fuel-cell cars as the same issue that has dogged electric vehicles will also work against hydrogen cars, with consumers waiting for facilities to be built and investors wanting the cars to be more widespread, Ghosn said at the Tokyo Motor Show yesterday.

“I would be very curious and interested to see competitors who say they are going to mass market the car in 2015,” said Ghosn, an early proponent of electric vehicles who also heads Renault SA. “Where is the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it?”

Automakers from Toyota Motor Corp. to General Motors Co. have invested in fuel-cell technology as an alternative to electric vehicles, which have been dogged by concerns including cost, safety, limited range and access to recharging facilities. Tesla, under U.S. scrutiny for vehicle-fire risk, said this week that it made an adjustment to its Model S sedan to reduce the risk of battery packs being punctured and catching fire after hitting objects in the road.

Not Workable

Musk said in Munich in October that there’s “no way” that fuel-cell vehicles will be a workable technology. Fuel cells are too complex, too costly and not clean enough, since most hydrogen is generated from natural gas, he said.

Tesla competes for resources with hydrogen cars in the form of government subsidies for rebates, fueling infrastructure and green-car credits that have made the company profitable this year.

Musk wasn’t present at the Tokyo Motor Show, where Tesla was participating for the first time. The Palo Alto, California-based automaker said yesterday that it plans to start delivering the Model S sedan in Japan in the spring of next year.

Ghosn said he thinks the technology for hydrogen-powered cars won’t be ready until at least 2020. Both Toyota and Honda Motor Co. have said they plan to sell hydrogen-powered cars by 2015. Hyundai Motor Co. announced plans to lease its fuel cell vehicle in 2014.

Hyundai Lease

Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, plans a $499-a-month lease for its hydrogen-powered Tucson crossover vehicles that will arrive in the U.S. next year, the company said at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Hyundai has been producing its fuel-cell vehicles in Ulsan, South Korea since February 2012, and have sold the cars to countries including Denmark and Sweden, the company said in a separate e-mailed statement.

In the U.S., the company plans to initially begin offers of its Tucson Fuel Cell in California, which has the most hydrogen fuel stations in the U.S., and gradually expand the market, according to the statement.

Toyota, Honda

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is working on fuel-cell vehicle research with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG. The Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker is displaying a concept version of a hydrogen-powered car at the Tokyo show.

“Five years on, we don’t think there’ll be any dominant technology but various different green technologies,” said Satoshi Ogiso, a managing officer at Toyota. “For Toyota, we try to be prepared for any kind of demand that’s expected to arise.”

Honda and GM signed a pact this year to work on the technology, while Renault and Nissan are partnering with Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co. to develop hydrogen cars. Honda showed its fuel-cell concept car at the Los Angeles show.

Separately, Ghosn said the Nissan-Renault alliance will miss its target to sell 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2016. The automakers, which have sold about 120,000 EVs to date, will probably take an extra “two or three years” to reach the target than previously expected, he said.

“2016 was optimistic? Yes, obviously, we are already practically in 2014, we know what are the volumes,” said Ghosn. “We continue to believe that electric cars are going to the major component of the car industry.”

For next year, Ghosn said he expects the global car market to expand by 2 percent to 3 percent, and for major markets except Japan to grow. Europe should see “some growth” as the economy stabilizes, while demand in India and Brazil should rebound, he said.

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