Japanese automakers fasten plan on battery, hydrogen to cut emissions

Hond’s newly unveiled Clarity

Hond’s newly unveiled Clarity

Japanese auto makers are honing plans to speed new battery- and hydrogen-powered vehicles to market, after the scandal over Volkswagen AG’s diesel engines sparked renewed interest in other technologies to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday at the Tokyo Motor Show that it would start leasing its Clarity Fuel Cell car, powered by hydrogen, in March with plans to sell it in the mass market soon.

Nissan Motor Co. showed an electric concept car with autonomous driving capabilities. The car carries a battery pack with twice the capacity of Nissan’s existing Leaf electric car, which would expand the driving range significantly if commercialized.

These developments and others, at the first big industry gathering since Volkswagen’s admission in September that it used software to manipulate diesel-emissions test results, underscore how Japan’s leading car makers could stand to benefit as the auto sector seeks alternatives to internal-combustion engines.

Japanese car makers make diesel cars, but they have generally played down the technology in reducing emissions. Toyota Motor Corp. began selling its first consumer fuel-cell vehicle, the Mirai, last year. The company this year plans to start selling an upgrade to its Prius hybrid car, which runs on gasoline and battery power

Chief Executive of both Nissan and Renault SA, Carlos Ghosn: “We had already some backlash on diesel before. So with this [scandal], it’s accelerating.

Auto makers will have to be ready for the decline of diesel, especially in Europe, and other technologies will benefit from such a decline, he said. “Obviously gasoline, certainly, electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids, maybe fuel-cell one day,” Mr. Ghosn said.

Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess said that while the auto maker still believes diesel has a bright future, it is undergoing a shift. “Electrification is a trend in the industry. I think it’s irreversible. We will go and that’s why we also announced we will invest more money into electric cars,” he said at the Tokyo show.

The Japanese auto makers’ efforts to lead the pack in hydrogen and electric cars carry risks, as the technologies are still outliers that could be left behind if global demand doesn’t increase. Consumers have been reluctant to buy purely battery-powered cars because of limitations such as short driving range, while fuel-cell vehicles face a shortage of fueling stations.

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