Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) should be making their big stage entrance right about now. Petrol and diesel cars are under fire as the UK government pushes harder for zero emissions ahead of its ban on new ICE vehicles from 2030. Meanwhile, hydrogen is a key part of emissions reduction from British power generation (plans were announced last year to produce 5GW worth annually by 2030 – roughly the output of two nuclear plants). And FCEVs eliminate much of the range and charging anxiety prompted by the move from ICE cars. So where are they?

Brits can buy just two FCEVs from mainstream car makers: the Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai. Last year, just two Nexos and 10 Mirais were registered. By contrast, 190,727 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were sold – 12% of the car total.

Despite decades of research into hydrogen fuel cells, many car makers are now backing away from the technology.

Honda last year announced it was ending its Clarity fuel cell programme, citing low demand. In 2020, Mercedes-Benz stopped its long-running F-Cell programme, due to high costs and an inability to lower them.

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General Motors has broadened the focus of its Hydrotec fuel cells to embrace “land, air and sea” applications. Jaguar Land Rover said in April last year that it would test a Defender FCEV by the end of 2021 as part of its emissions reduction programme, but in October it lost its fuel cell chief, Ralph Clague, and it declined to tell Autocar whether he had been replaced or whether the test went ahead as planned. And even Toyota, the car maker that has backed fuel cells the most forcefully, has shifted its ambitions for the technology away from cars. “In terms of passenger vehicles, I don’t see fuel cells as being a significant opportunity, honestly. We’re talking a few thousand annually [by 2030],” said Toyota Motor Europe president Matt Harrison in an interview last month.