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Nissan, Tesla chiefs question hydrogen cars' future

The 2015 Hyundai Tuscon, unveiled at the 2013

The 2015 Hyundai Tuscon, unveiled at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, has an electric motor making 221 pounds-feet of torque, powered by an onboard hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion battery Credit: Cars.com

Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said the market won't be ready for fuel-cell vehicles before 2020, joining Tesla's Elon Musk in questioning the future of hydrogen-powered cars.

Such cars 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 today.

"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 yesterday 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.

Musk said in Munich in October that there's "no way" that fuel-cell vehicles will be a workable technology. He wasn't present at the Tokyo Motor Show, where Tesla was participating for the first time and exhibiting the Model S.

Both Toyota and Honda Motor Co. have said they plan to sell hydrogen-powered cars by 2015.

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.

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."

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