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Japan's Hydrogen Highway to Nowhere: Why Their Clean Car Dream Stalled

29 May 2024

Japan, a frontrunner in hydrogen technology, is stuck in a green rut.

Let's take a closer look at why their hydrogen car ambitions haven't taken off.

Japan's Early Hydrogen Push

  • Betting on Clean:  Since the 1970s, Japan has championed hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) as the future of transportation.

  • Government Greenlight:  Heavy government funding and ambitious targets fueled optimism for FCVs.

  • Toyota's Big Bet:  The launch of the Mirai, the first mass-produced FCV by Toyota in 2014, grabbed headlines.


But the Road Got Rocky

  • Sales Sputter:  Despite the hype, FCV sales are far below expectations.

  • Chicken and Egg Dilemma:  A lack of hydrogen stations discourages buying FCVs, and low demand makes stations unprofitable.

  • China Zooms Past: Meanwhile, China surpassed Japan in FCV ownership, focusing on commercial vehicles.


Japan's Wrong Turn

  • Passenger Power Play:  Japan prioritized passenger FCVs, requiring a vast network of expensive hydrogen stations.

  • Commercial Sense Makes Cents:  China's focus on FCV trucks and buses is smarter – fixed routes need fewer stations.


Learning from China's Success

  • Trucks Take the Lead:  China targets heavy-duty vehicles with longer ranges, a perfect fit for FCVs.

  • Stations on the Rise:  China's rapidly building hydrogen stations, creating a more viable ecosystem.


Recommendations for Beijing

  • Public Transport Takes Priority:  The report suggests Beijing prioritize FCVs for buses, sanitation, and postal vehicles, needing fewer stations.

  • Focus and Flourish:  By narrowing the initial market, Beijing can create a more sustainable FCV ecosystem.

  • Don't Forget Heavyweights:  Heavy-duty FCV trucks could significantly reduce emissions in high-traffic areas.


Japan's experience offers valuable lessons for countries aiming for a hydrogen future. By focusing on strategic sectors and infrastructure development, the clean car dream can become a reality.

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