It's safe to say that BEVs will dominate the near future of the automotive mass market, given all major manufacturers alongside many start-up companies, are racing to push out brand-new EVs. Whether one agrees with that or not is another conversation, as cleaner alternative fuels may still be developed for our ICE rides down the road. Still, there's another option hanging out in the background of America, perhaps unnoticed by many, but in a facet of society that could provide a pivotal change. That is the notion of hydrogen-powered vehicles, running on highly pressurized gas tanks, pushing the element through fuel combustible engines out of the water vapor emitting exhaust as it's mixed with oxygen. Currently, at this impasse, there are more than several automakers that invested heavily in the technology of hydrogen power, not willingly letting their efforts go to waste, despite authored advancements in EV production. With hydrogen being Earth's single most plentiful element, it makes sense that's the case. Nevertheless, substantial refining must take place to purify and exploit hydrogen for use in transportation, and the highly flammable substance has but a fledgling harness of infrastructure for support.

Related: Why A Hydrogen Supra Would Do Wonders For Toyota

Toyota Wears The Hydrogen Crown For Now

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Toyota Hilux
Front three-quarters shot of a Toyota Hilux Hydrogen prototype 

Toyota's Mirai is the pinnacle of hydrogen-powered passenger cars currently available for purchase. Though the company recently experienced a change in leadership, both the manufacturer and home country are united in their view of maintaining a hydrogen footprint. Said footprint has increased in the development of a race car, as well as using the fuel for commercial purposes. Beginning with the racer, Toyota has developed the GR Yaris Hydrogen Concept. Currently, the Mirai is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle (HFCV), but the Yaris concept actually has an engine built to run off Hydrogen! Thus, it's a vehicle that has a similar sound and feel of a gasoline internal combustion engine, yet with near zero emissions. However, hydrogen burns quicker than conventional gas, so that means it's less efficient but also performs better. By creating an engine to run off hydrogen and testing it in motorsports, Toyota is talking to the enthusiast in all of us. Toyota began the development of such an engine in 2017, but due to the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, don't expect this concept to be mass-produced for sale anytime soon.

Nevertheless, Toyota also recently completed a test run with hydrogen-powered semi-trucks co-developed with Kenworth, for commercial use in the Port of Los Angeles. The "shore to shore" ZANZEEF project was a smashing success, so much so that Toyota will now begin mass production of the powertrain next year in Kentucky. Kenworth has many customers with zero-emissions goals in the next 10-15 years, and the company projects zero-emission truck production to ramp up from a few thousand now to 70,000 by 2030 and 180,000 by 2040. Toyota and Kenworth clearly believe that hydrogen has a future as a zero-emissions option, especially in commercial use.

In terms of semi-trucks, hydrogen has advantages over battery-powered electric options. Firstly, hydrogen powertrains perform similarly to a diesel drivetrain, one that supplies what a trucker requires. Truckers need to be able to have range, pull tens of thousands of pounds of weight, and also refuel in a reasonable amount of time. Hydrogen provides all that, while a battery electric option would need massive batteries to even come close to such attributes, adding even more weight to the hauling rig. Not only that, but hydrogen would refuel in minutes like diesel, whereas battery trucks would take hours to charge. This of course causes undesirable downtime and work stoppages. Lastly, hydrogen provides all the torque all the time, making trucks easier to get rolling and move in and out of traffic. This would be enough to convert any old trucker that thinks the diesel feel is preferable.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles

Hyundai Also Believes That HFCVs Will Be The Future

The N Vision 74 going drifting on a wet track
A Hyundai N Vision Concept 74 drifting on a wet track

The only other HFCV available for purchase is Hyundai's NEXO SUV. This vehicle has not sold nearly as well as the Mirai, which is why one could say that the company trails Toyota. Even so, Hyundai could be viewed as just as successful as Toyota in developing and incorporating hydrogen technology into transportation. For one, it developed the first FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) in the ix35 Fuel Cell, which was mass-produced and equipped with its own fuel cell. This was in 2013, after opening a fuel cell department in 1998. The company believes that we need hydrogen energy because it is eco-friendly, storable and portable, and highly efficient. Additionally, it recognizes that the current method of extracting hydrogen is not as clean as it could be, working on ways in "boosting green hydrogen." This is done through electrolysis, a process that generates zero carbon emissions. It has partnered with Next Hydrogen Corporation to develop an alkaline water electrolysis system that would produce clean hydrogen in a cost-effective manner. Lastly, Hyundai has launched a second generation NEXO. On top of that, Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility (HHM) leases XCIENT fuel cell trucks to commercial shipping companies in Switzerland and Europe.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Hydrogen Cars Are Better Than Electric Cars

Honda Is Involved Quite Actively

2011 Honda FCX Clarity
Representative photo of the 2011 Honda FCX Clarity at a hydrogen station

The Honda Clarity was the only other HFCV available for sale in California (along with the Mirai and NEXO), the only State with retail hydrogen fueling stations, but it has now been discontinued. That being said, the manufacturer has just revealed their next model for such a candidacy, the 2024 CR-V plug-in. Powered by hydrogen, this vehicle proves Honda has not given up on the technology, even if it has shelved the Clarity. The Clarity sold less that the Mirai and NEXO, but the CR-V will be for sale in the United States and Japan, a vehicle using a fuel cell unit that was co-developed with GM. Honda plans to build 2,000 of these fuel cell units by 2025, and 60,000 a year of either this unit or a further developed one, by 2030. This company is also looking for North American partners in the commercial fuel cell trucks realm, currently testing as such in China, with future plans in Japan within other partnerships. Honda is "targeting to make the future generation system to be comparable with diesel engines in terms of ease of use and total cost of ownership."

Related: Here's What Needs To Happen For Hydrogen Cars To Take Off (And Why EVs Hold Them Back)

BMW Is Also In The Line

Front three-quarters view of BMW iX5 in the snow

BMW has entered the game with a Hydrogen Fuel-Cell SUV called the iX5, going into low production and testing in select regions this spring. The vehicle is based on the regular X5; retrofitted with a fuel-cell stack, an electric battery, and motor, as well as a new floor to fit hydrogen tanks. This manufacturer believes that both hydrogen and electric power will play a role in combating climate change, and this vehicle could be a precursor to future models. Claimed specifications are: similar curb weight of over 5600 pounds in relation to the X5; acceleration from 0-62 mph in under seven seconds; a top speed of 118mph; and a range of around 310 miles. BMW also states that more than 40 countries worldwide have a strategy in terms of hydrogen power, and cites increased production of hydrogen refueling sites since 2020, although the iX5 is merely a pilot program.

Related: Here's What's Really Going On With Toyota's Stance On Electric Vehicles

Volkswagen Has Dipped Its Toes In The Hydrogen Tech, But With Uncertainty

A Volkswagen Passat HyMotion at a hydrogen station
A Volkswagen Passat HyMotion at a hydrogen station

Meanwhile, Volkswagen (VW) CEO Thomas Schafer, announced that the company doesn't see hydrogen development in the near future. Citing the lack of a competitive nature in the passenger car market, it doesn't believe it's a worthwhile endeavor within the next 10 years or so, although acknowledging the viability for commercial use. The numbers support this type of claim, as only 2,707 hydrogen cars were sold last year in the U.S., with less than 15,000 in the last 11 years, while VW sold over 20,000 units of its ID.4 EV last year alone. Unlike the other German manufacturer in BMW, VW seems to be willing to stand back and let it all play out. However, the efforts of Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, and BMW combined, could show enough to make the hydrogen rally happen worldwide in the stretch run.