Considering we are confronted with new facts almost every day, it should come as no surprise that the controversy surrounding nitrogen oxides and fine dust, blue badges and diesel bans in German cities shows no sign of letting up. Likewise, automakers are a recurrent subject on the evening news, whether they want to or not. Despite, or probably because, every news cycle delivers more information about how the industry cheated during emission tests, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with the latest developments.
Ultimately, there is one thing that stands out to me when watching all this back and forth about driving restrictions and financial compensation. Finally, we are talking about what path we want to take and no longer about what we have and how we could keep the internal combustion engine running. Finally, we are discussing new avenues, the value of good air quality and the chance for a clean environment.
Those days when no one dared to question the wisdom of clinging to conventional combustion technology seem to be over. The current debate about the path to more electric transportation may be a fierce one. Thankfully, though, arguments no longer revolve around whether electric cars have a future at all. The past months have proven beyond a doubt that they will be needed moving forward.
Of course, there are still widely varying opinions on what the next step should be. Should the government restrict the use of old technology? Should automakers offer useful alternatives and let consumers decide if they want the market to change? This competition of sometimes opposing ideas is vital to a society that cherishes democratic values. In the end, the majority will decide on the course, without being pressured into taking certain actions.
What counts right now is not so much whether we will quickly see the implementation of a blue badge system or the banning of diesel cars from downtown areas. Instead, the key to progress will be a public discussion to encourage road users to contemplate their choice of transportation, a discussion to have owners of real estate think about their options for water and space heating, a discussion to get tenants to reflect on alternative power sources for all those electrical devices at home.
In short, as soon as there is a general feeling that everyone’s actions have at least some kind of impact on shaping the future of our planet, we know we will be on the right path. At that point, I believe consumers will voluntarily opt for the more sustainable engine. It will be their choice and theirs alone to buy the kind of car that will still have a place in cities and towns in two decades’ time. Maybe then, business leaders will start looking past quarterly financial results and make decisions based on what will give their companies long-term, and not short-term, prospects for growth.
Considering the above, there is more than one way to interpret the number of fuel cell vehicles that have been put on the market. In February, the European Hydrogen Association announced that nearly 6,500 hydrogen fuel cell cars had been delivered to customers since 2013. More than half of them ended up in the United States, mainly in California, and fewer than one-tenth in Europe. But is that figure reason for ease or apprehension?
Frankly, I don’t have an answer to this question and I’m not sure that the figure means much without context. It seems like an alarmingly low number compared to the targets that should have been meet years ago. But you could also say that it is quite a feat to accomplish, given the vehicles’ high price tags and no mass market to speak of yet.
Where does this leave us? Can we be satisfied with the way things are?
I do believe that it’s not looking all that bleak right now. Perhaps, the past and the following months and years could go down in history as the time when we succeeded in transforming the market. They could become known as the era in which changes initiated in the power industry gradually spread to the transportation and heat sectors as well.
The process has been started, that much is clear. Now, it’s time to work toward achieving all those ambitious goals.
One last thing. Those 6,500 fuel cell cars? Every single one of them was made in Asia.