These Automakers Are Reaching Into the Future

As governments tighten down on automakers, demanding more environmentally-friendly vehicles, the manufacturers are left weighing their options. Shifts in Japan seem to hint at the future technology of cars, but will it be hybrids, wholly electric vehicles, or the more exotic hydrogen-powered vehicles?

It’s been more than 10 years since Toyota (NYSE:TM) introduced its hybrid Prius. Since then the automaker has developed more than 10 different hybrid models and sold nearly 5 million — 1.2 million in just the past year.

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In comparison, Nissan (NSANY.PK) has taken a much longer time to get its fully electric vehicles, or EVs, adopted by consumers. The Leaf is probably Nissan’s most well known EV, and since its launch in 2010, it has sold under 50,000 vehicles worldwide. The weaknesses of EVs is apparent in their driving range and production cost, and considering the shortcomings, Nissan is reconsidering its stance on making hybrid vehicles like Toyota.

However, one thing both companies are looking into is fuel cell technology, which would run on hydrogen and only have emissions of water. Neither company is alone in their search for the holy grail of green car fuels…

Toyota has teamed up with BMW to design a hydrogen fuel-cell system, and then BMW will also lease the technology from Toyota. Prototypes and production models are expected in 2015 and 2020, respectively. As Toyota — its Lexus brand included — and BMW are both major players in the standard and luxury auto markets, their use of fuel-cell technology could not be easily ignored.

Nissan is also looking into fuel-cells with Daimler AG, Renault and Ford (NYSE:F). The partnership could help all four companies save significant amounts of money on developing the technology while also speeding up the process. The automakers could have road models ready as early as 2017, which would put them ahead of BMW and Toyota.

Though the fate of each car company won’t be decided today, it seems clear that fuel-cell technology is shaping up to be an important investment in the future if auto manufacturers want to keep selling vehicles as regulatory standards increase.

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