Why Asian giants are backing ‘clean’ rival to electric vehicles

Safety fears have led to protests outside a hydrogen fuel cell power plant in Incheon, South Korea. (Reuters)
Updated 25 September 2019

Why Asian giants are backing ‘clean’ rival to electric vehicles

  • Hydrogen’s proponents point to how it can be made from sources including methane, water, even garbage

VANCOUVER: China, Japan and South Korea have set ambitious targets to put millions of hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads by the end of the next decade at a cost of billions of dollars.

But to date, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been upstaged by electric vehicles, which are fast becoming a mainstream option due to the success of Tesla Inc’s luxury cars as well as sales and production quotas set by China.

Critics argue FCVs may never amount to more than a niche technology. But proponents counter hydrogen is the cleanest energy source for autos available, and that with time and more refueling infrastructure, it will gain acceptance.

China, the world’s biggest auto market with 28 million vehicles sold annually, is aiming for more than 1 million FCVs in service by 2030. That compares with just 1,500 or so now, most of which are buses.

Japan, a market of more than 5 million vehicles annually, wants to have 800,000 FCVs sold by that time from around 3,400 currently.

South Korea, which has a car market just one third the size of Japan, has set a target of 850,000 vehicles on the road by 2030. So far, fewer than 3,000 have been sold.

Hydrogen’s proponents point to how clean it is as an energy source — water and heat are the only byproducts — and how it can be made from a number of sources, including methane, coal, water, even garbage. Resource-poor Japan sees hydrogen as a way to greater energy security.

They also argue that driving ranges and refueling times for FCVs are comparable to gasoline cars, whereas EVs require hours to recharge and provide only a few hundred kilometers of range.

Many backers in China and Japan see FCVs as complementing EVs rather than replacing them. In general, hydrogen is seen as the more efficient choice for heavier vehicles that drive longer distances, hence the current emphasis on city buses.

Only a handful of automakers have made fuel cell passenger cars commercially available.

Toyota Motor Corp. launched the Mirai sedan at the end of 2014, but has sold fewer than 10,000 globally. Hyundai Motor has offered the Nexo crossover since March last year and has sold just under 2,900 worldwide. It had sales of around 900 for its previous FCV model, the Tucson.

Honda’s Clarity Fuel Cell is available for lease, while Daimler AG’s GLC F-CELL has been delivered to a handful of corporate and public sector clients. Buses are seeing more demand. Both Toyota and Hyundai have begun selling fuel cell components to bus makers, particularly in China.

Several Chinese manufacturers have developed their own buses, notably state-owned SAIC Motor, the nation’s biggest automaker, and Geely Auto Group, which also owns the Volvo Cars and Lotus brands.


Kuwait MPs launch probe into Airbus deal

Updated 19 February 2020

Kuwait MPs launch probe into Airbus deal

  • The decision came after a debate on allegations that Airbus paid kickbacks to secure a deal 6 years ago
  • The parliament also asked the finance ministry to review recent aircraft deals involving state-owned Kuwait Airways

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's parliament on Wednesday formed a fact-finding panel to probe alleged kickbacks in a deal between the national carrier and Airbus, which last month paid massive fines to settle bribery scandals.
The parliament's decision came after a special debate on allegations that Airbus paid kickbacks to secure a 25-aircraft deal six years ago.
It also asked the Audit Bureau, the state accounting watchdog, to investigate the deal, which was reportedly worth billions of dollars, although exact figures were never released.
Kuwait Airway Co. in 2014 ordered 15 Airbus 320neo and 10 Airbus 350, with delivery beginning last year and continuing until 2021.
Opposition lawmaker Riyadh al-Adasani told the session that Kuwait was mentioned in a settlement struck by Airbus in a British court on January 31, along with the names of some Kuwaiti officials and citizens.
Under the settlement, Airbus agreed to pay 3.6 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in fines to Britain, France and the United States to settle corruption probes into some of its aircraft sales.
Days after the settlement, Sri Lanka ordered an investigation into a multi-billion dollar aircraft purchase from Airbus after the deal was named in the settlement.
The former chief of Sri Lankan Airlines, Kapila Chandrasena, was arrested on February 6 for allegedly receiving bribes relating to the deal.
Earlier this month, two senior officials of the Malaysia-based AirAsia stepped aside while authorities probe unusual payments at the carrier, as the fallout from the Airbus scandal reverberated across the industry.
Kuwait in recent years also initiated criminal investigations into two large military aircraft deals involving Airbus -- a $9 billion Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes deal and a contract for 30 Caracal military helicopters costing $1.2 billion.