Fuel Cell Electric Cars: Throwing Down The Glove, Potential Impact on Platinum

Monday December 08, 2014 09:45

As predicted, fuel cell electric vehicles made a broad entrance at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show and consumers could be seeing these models in showrooms as early as next year.

The advancement of FCEV vehicles could have an impact on precious metals and platinum group metals demand in the long term.

Toyota presented its final version of the long anticipated FCEV — now called Mirai. Honda, the first to have a series of hydrogen cars (the FCX Clarity) on Californian streets many years ago, showed off its next generation vehicle and Clarity’s successor. To the surprise of some, Volkswagen Group entered the arena with both a lower-end model based on the VW Jetta Wagon and a high end A7 “h-tron Quattro”, the latter clearly positioned as a Tesla alternative. BMW came forward with the proposition that its second generation “I” cars might be powered by hydrogen as well.

The L.A. Auto Show may therefore be remembered one day as a direction-altering event in the history of the automobile, with serious implications to precious metals:

  • A boost to electric vehicle (EV) sales – be it battery electric like the Tesla S or fuel cell electric – will reduce the number of new cars needing an automotive catalyst; autocats still amount to about 50% of the world’s consumption of platinum group metals.
  • At the same time, as we reported earlier, the market indecision between battery electric and fuel cell electric will decide on whether and how much platinum will be used in new automotive applications. Only fuel cells need platinum, while batteries usually contain a lithium-based chemical cocktail.


Both technologies have positives and negatives alike at this point. Ultimately, convenience in the eye of the mass market will perhaps be more important than the ecological impact of each option. John Voelcker of Green Car Reports, a Tech Metals Insider guest in the early stages of the series, just released an excellent three-part series on some of the more relevant concerns consumers have.

Toyota, Honda and Hyundai all provided answers to ten questions offering insights into the approaches of each company. The series of articles spawned a record breaking series of comments and arguments underlining how emotionally charged the discussion is led by enthusiasts in both camps.

Tech Metals Insider will embark on a journey to answer the more general questions regarding total energy balance, total cost and efficiency in future issues. However, as history indicates it isn’t always the best technology that wins – remember Betamax? Consumers around the world will make a choice, and industry lobbies will try to influence these choices. With FCEVs finally on the market, the game may begin.

Bodo Albrecht, 
tminsider@eniqma.com