Battery-electric cars are better than fuel cell cars, says Zetsche

Dieter Zetsche, the effervescent chairman of Daimler, told German magazine Euro am Sonntag recently that batteries have a slight edge over hydrogen fuel cells for dominance in the automotive industry going forward.

Daimler, parent to Mercedes Benz, is developing both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars to meet upcoming emissions regulations. While Zetsche says there is no clear winner yet, “[O]ne has to recognize: batteries have become more attractive in recent years. It has become more likely that they could prevail.” He added that batteries had shown progress in two key areas recently — range and charging time. “Cars with electric driving ranges of 500 kilometers and fast charging times of 20 minutes are within reach,” he said.

The problem for fuel cell cars is not so much the technology as it is the lack of anything like an adequate hydrogen refueling infrastructure. It is all well and good to say that a hydrogen car can be refueled in less time than it takes to charge a battery, but that doesn’t help very much if there are only a few hydrogen stations available to motorists.

Zetsche also took the opportunity to prod German chancellor Angela Merkel and her government. Officials say they want 1 million electric cars on the road in Germany by the year 2020, but Zetsche says the government has done far too little to make that goal a reality.

He said he is not calling for subsidies as much as assistance with building the infrastructure needed to support either battery electric or fuel cell cars. “Subsidies could only fulfill a bridging function anyway,” he said, adding that they could not be the solution in the medium and long term. “I’m just saying: If everything stays the way it is now, you have to bid farewell to the target of putting 1 million electric cars on Germany’s roads by 2020.”