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Can Toyota Motors’ Fuel Cell Vehicle Mirai Pose A Real Threat To Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)?

Written by on January 13, 2015

Do fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) pose a real challenge to the business model of the electric vehicle (EV) makers such as Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)? What do the facts and the evidence say?

“… for nature cannot be fooled,” is a famous line Mr. Richard Feynman had written in his addendum to the Challenger shuttle crash investigation report. So what does nature have to say about the competition between EVs and FCVs?

Tesla Motors Vs. Toyota Mirai

Hydrogen-fuel based FCVs certainly appear weak on paper based on factors such as that they are pretty expensive and there are not that many refueling stations where one may refill the Toyota Mirais with hydrogen.

While California in the U.S. is taking steps to remedy this, the government of Japan is also fully committed to FCV technology being developed by Japanese carmakers such as Toyota and Honda; hence, a refueling infrastructure of hydrogen filling stations is being built at government expense.

Such a government-backed ‘Moonshot’ project can indeed go a long way as Japanese industry had shown back in the 1960s when Japan rose spectacularly after the devastation of the Second World War.

Tesla is having to go it alone and has got a bunch of superchargers in the U.S. which make it possible for a person to drive a Tesla across the U.S. — indeed Elon Musk did exactly that in early 2014.

But recharging EVs is somewhat slow and hydrogen refilling is far faster.

Hydrogen FCVs such as the Toyota Mirai give decent mileage comparable to the likes of Tesla Model S.

Tesla cars and EVs in general may appear spectacularly eco-friendly with their lack of carbon emissions. However, a deeper look shows that the process of manufacturing batteries requires electric power which may be generated in power plants that run on fossil fuels — such as coal.

If the hydrogen that is filled in hydrogen FCVs is captured in an environmentally-friendly manner, then the likes of Toyota Mirai can become truly and spectacularly eco-friendly.

After all, while Tesla cars are quiet and clean, Toyota Mirai produced clean water — fit enough to drink — from its exhaust.


So, what’s the verdict?

In the short run, FCVs do not pose a challenge to EVs. In the short run, however, even gasoline prices have drastically come down possibly leading to a boom in car and truck sales in the U.S. and the traditional gas-guzzlers are selling like hot cakes and all concerns about global warming and gas at $4 a gallon have been completely forgotten.

But fossil fuels will end. Gas prices will rise. And then both EVs and FCVs will rise.

First, the age of EVs will be upon us. Soon after, the age of FCVs will be here.

Tesla’s challenge does not come only from FCVs such as the Toyota Mirai. It faces competition in the EV space too from manufacturers such as GM and Nissan.