In the field of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, it seems that such a tacit understanding has formed: due to many factors such as policy, technology, cost and business model, China gives priority to the development of hydrogen fuel cell commercial vehicles, while hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles are regarded as a “reserve” route, which has been lukewarm for many years.

Even as early as 12 years ago, hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars appeared in China, but they have never been put into the market, and even have no chance of “trial and error”. Is there no prospect for hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars in the Chinese market? Not necessarily.

The field of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which has been silent for a long time, is ushering in a small industrial climax. In the past two months, great wall, GAC, BMW and other vehicle companies have successively released relevant plans for hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles. Among them, GAC will carry out demonstration operation in 2020. For many years, hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles have been developed slowly on the road of commercialization, and have begun to enter the substantive operation stage.

Fuel cell passenger car industry “small climax”

China’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicles “earned” some face this time.

Previously, the first mover advantage of hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars seems to be in foreign enterprises. In December 2014, Toyota launched its first mass production hydrogen fuel cell car, Toyota Mirai. At that time, Yihe Tanaka, head of Mirai fuel cell vehicle development at Toyota Motor Company, said that the reason why Toyota launched Mirai to the market at the end of 2014 was related to the consensus reached by Japan, Europe, the United States and other countries on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. At the same time, compared with 2008, the development cost of hydrogen vehicles has been reduced by 95%.

Where is the bottleneck of hydrogen fuel cell passenger car?

Around 2015, Japanese and Korean car companies and European and American car companies constantly announced hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars. Strictly speaking, as early as December 2013, Hyundai launched the mass production of the modern ix35 FCV; in 2016, Honda launched the clarity; in 2017, Daimler also launched the new hydrogen fuel Shenchi glc-cell concept car.

In contrast, Chinese auto companies have not made substantial progress like Toyota, Hyundai and Honda. At the 2014 Shanghai auto show, SAIC unveiled the fourth generation Roewe 950 plug-in fuel cell vehicle with a maximum range of 400km. In 2016, Chery demonstrated an arizer 3 fuel cell extended range electric vehicle at the national “12th Five Year” science and technology innovation achievement exhibition, which can achieve a range of 350km under the extended range mode. However, this is only a technical demonstration of SAIC and Chery.

With the coming of 2020, the different actions of Chinese automobile enterprises in the field of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles make people feel a wave of “small climax” of the industry.

In less than a month, three vehicle companies have successively released plans for hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles and put forward plans for mass production vehicles. On July 20, Great Wall Motor released the “lemon” platform. The lemon platform will be equipped with the second generation hydrogen fuel cell power system, with a driving range of 1100km. According to the plan, Great Wall Motor’s first hydrogen fuel vehicle platform will be launched within this year, and a small batch of hydrogen energy fleet will be displayed in 2022, and a mature fuel cell passenger car will be launched in 2023.

GAC followed closely. On July 28, GAC’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, aion LX fuel cell, made its debut on GAC technology day. And this model is not just a display car. GAC plans to put it into demonstration operation within this year.

Fuel cell technology is also among the new car makers. On August 10, Aichi held the foundation laying ceremony of methanol reforming to hydrogen fuel cell technology in Gaoping, Shanxi Province, and officially started the construction of its methanol hydrogen fuel cell power system production base. With an investment of 2 billion yuan, the plant can produce 80000 sets of fuel cell power system for hydrogen production from methanol annually.

In addition to the above-mentioned enterprises, according to preliminary statistics, automobile enterprises including Haima, Yundu, Hongqi, SAIC Datong, Chang’an, etc. have begun to make layout in the field of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It can be said that from the perspective of the field layout of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles, the number of Chinese automobile enterprises is the largest at present. Will this be the beginning of the rise of hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars in China?

Why fuel cell passenger cars?

First of all, answer this question: why do we have to develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Let’s look at the energy problems facing our country. There are several sets of data: first, at present, 70% and more than 40% of China’s oil and natural gas depend on imports; second, China’s carbon emissions account for 29% of the world in 2019; third, China’s renewable energy accounts for about 14.86%, and the scale of “three discards” (wind, light and water) is about 51.5 billion kwh; fourth, China’s coal-fired power generation efficiency is between 38% and 45%, and the energy consumption of GDP in 2018 is about 50% 6 tons of standard coal / 10000 yuan, 1.5 times of the world average.

China has promised the world that its carbon emissions will peak in 2030. How to fulfill this promise? The development of hydrogen energy industry is an effective way to achieve carbon removal. When hydrogen reacts with oxygen, the final product is water, which is carbon free, colorless and tasteless.

From the perspective of grand strategy, “decarbonization from hydrogen” is an inevitable trend in the future. Of course, when it comes to specific industries, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle industry with large-scale advantages is essential. If it is not driven by the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle industry, China will have to give a discount to fulfill its 2030 commitment.

Let’s look at the advantages of fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cell vehicle (FCV), in short, is a new type of electric vehicle driven by the electric energy generated by fuel cell. Compared with traditional vehicles, FCV has the advantages of zero pollution to the environment, hydrogenation takes only a few minutes, and the driving range is enough to meet the needs of users. Only from the product itself, FCV has outstanding advantages.

In fact, Chinese auto companies have never ignored the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Since 2008, Chinese auto companies have been continuously investing in the field of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles. SAIC, Chery, FAW, BAIC, great wall, Aichi and other auto companies have demonstrated fuel cell passenger car products. According to preliminary statistics, since 2008, more than 20 types of fuel cell passenger vehicles have appeared in the domestic market.

It is also an indisputable fact that China’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle industry is concentrated in the field of commercial vehicles. Professor Zhang Tong, director of the Institute of fuel cell vehicle technology, Tongji University, explains that from a technical point of view, when the technology of fuel cell vehicle industry chain is not mature, it is relatively difficult to develop commercial vehicles. Passenger cars have higher requirements on the technical maturity of related parts, and the promotion is more difficult.

Another reason is the guidance of national policies. Demonstration operation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles focuses on public transport and logistics, which makes national control less difficult and easier to operate from the perspective of subsidies. Coupled with the intervention of local government forces, regional and public products such as buses have become the focus of support.

Therefore, some people think that China’s passenger cars are more suitable for pure electric technology, so it is unnecessary to develop hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars.

This view is biased. From the perspective of the proportion of commercial and vehicle types, as of June 2020, China’s car ownership has reached 270 million, of which only 29.44 million are trucks. Even with the addition of public transport vehicles, the proportion of commercial vehicle ownership is not high.

If the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle industry only expands to the field of commercial vehicles, the overall market capacity will be very limited, which is far from enough to contribute to China’s energy conservation and emission reduction. Secondly, the utilization rate of hydrogenation station infrastructure will be low in the future. Moreover, whether hydrogen fuel cell technology can stand the test must also go deep into the field of private consumption.

From the international experience, the market performance of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles is obvious to all. Since 2015, the sales volume of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles in South Korea has continued to rise, especially in 2018-2019, with a year-on-year growth of 509.8% in 2018 and a breakthrough of 4000 vehicles in 2019. The sales volume of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles in Japan declined in 2017 and 2018, then recovered in 2019, and is expected to be in a stable recovery trend in 2020.

Let’s take the sales data of Hyundai NEXO hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as an example. In 2018, Hyundai sold 966 nexos in total; in 2019, it sold 4987; in the first half of 2020, it sold 3292. Hyundai expects sales of the car to exceed 10000 in August.

From this point of view, although hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles have not been considered a success for the time being, they have made small achievements and at least gained a valuable opportunity to be tested by the market.

Where is the bottleneck of hydrogen fuel cell passenger car?

Of course, the development of hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars is not easy.

Daimler not long ago announced the termination of hydrogen fuel cell passenger car research and development plan. This means that the project, developed in cooperation with Ford and Nissan since 2013, has stopped. The core reason why Daimler abandoned the fuel cell project is that the cost of manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars is too high.

The first problem in hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars is cost. As a product facing consumers directly, the price of passenger car is an important reason for its purchase. Some organizations have made preliminary statistics on the cost of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The price of a fuel cell vehicle is 1.5 to 2 times that of a lithium-ion electric vehicle and 3-4 times that of a fuel vehicle. If the cost of hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars remains high, it will be difficult to have a market in the future.

Infrastructure is the second obstacle for hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars. If the layout of hydrogenation stations is insufficient in the future, will it be similar to that of pure electric vehicles? Up to now, there are 59 hydrogenation stations in operation, 53 under construction and 20 under planning in China. The promotion is very slow.

Of course, technical problems can not be ignored. Ma Tiancai, associate professor of automotive College of Tongji University, said that from the perspective of industrial chain, there is not a big gap between China’s hydrogen fuel cell development and that of foreign countries in terms of vehicle level and system level, but the lower the level, the weaker the key materials.

For example, electric stack accounts for more than 25% of the total cost of hydrogen fuel cell system, and almost all of its core materials depend on foreign manufacturers; in the field of catalyst, domestic consumption is 3-5 times that of foreign enterprises, and mainly comes from foreign enterprises, and only a few domestic enterprises can produce in small batch; in addition, proton exchange membrane, membrane electrode, etc. are mainly supplied by foreign enterprises.

However, we believe that the hydrogen fuel cell passenger car industry has ushered in the spring. Lin Qi, chairman and CEO of Shanghai remolding Energy Technology Co., Ltd., roughly divides the global development of fuel cell vehicles into three stages

The first stage is the development stage of fuel cell passenger vehicles, including the development of fuel cell technology led by Toyota, Honda, Benz and other passenger car enterprises, which has laid a good foundation for the development of fuel cell technology and achieved the breakthrough of many technical problems.

The second stage is the development of fuel cell commercial vehicles. In the past three or four years, fuel cell commercial vehicles have maintained rapid growth in the global market, especially in China. Whether it is vehicle enterprises or parts enterprises, we all gradually look to the direction of long-term, high load commercial vehicles.

The third stage, that is, from 2020, is the beginning of a new journey for fuel cell vehicles. The development trend of hydrogen energy application in the world is gradually clear, and the commercialization scene has been gradually realized, and in the process of continuous development.

Why is the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles moving towards a new stage? Lin Qi explained from four dimensions: the first dimension is that shell, BP, Sinopec, PetroChina and other energy end enterprises enter the hydrogen energy industry and start infrastructure construction; the second dimension is that from the product end, many mainstream automobile companies and parts companies also start product planning; the third dimension is that from the application scenario end, more and more hydrogen energy commercialized companies The fourth dimension comes from government policies and support programs.

To be sure, the development situation of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles in China is improving. In the subsidy policy for new energy vehicles in 2020, the fuel cell vehicles will be awarded to the demonstration cities by the way of “replacing subsidies with awards”. As mentioned in the development plan of hydrogen energy industry in Guangzhou (2019-2030), fuel cell passenger vehicles in Guangzhou will be mainly used in taxis, leasing and other public travel areas, and the number of fuel cell passenger vehicles is expected to reach about 100 in 2022.

In the near future, demonstration operation of hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles, or promotion in the form of leasing, will be a reasonable choice. In the long run, with the gradual expansion of the scale of demonstration operation and the further decline of the cost, it is only a matter of time before hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars go to ordinary consumers.

Still, it won’t come that fast. According to Zhang Tong’s prediction, it will take about five years for hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars to reach a certain scale. In other words, it will take at least five years for consumers to buy on a small scale.

Editor in charge: Tzh

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