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2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

The 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is among a dozen cars on the road or in planning stages that are powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

In the past decade or so, battery-electric vehicles surged to an enormous lead in the alternative fuels market. So it raises questions as to why at least a dozen hydrogen-powered vehicles are on the road or proposed. 

Fuel-cell electric vehicles “power themselves by converting hydrogen and ambient oxygen into electricity via an electro-chemical reaction in the fuel cell stack. The only byproduct is a wisp of steam,” said Nicolas Stecher, a freelance car writer in an October feature in The Drive. Like plug-in battery-electric vehicles, “They emit no harmful exhaust at the point of use and are therefore seen by many as another path towards a zero-emission future,” he noted.

They can be filled in three to five minutes and, wrote Stecher, “easily roam over 300 miles on a single tank,” whereas mass distributed battery-powered models are just now reaching the 230s.

Consider there are 16,292 electric charging stations in the U.S. and only 40 hydrogen stations — and only four outside of California, wrote Danielle Muoio in Business Insider, citing U.S. Department of Energy figures.

“But car makers still see potential in hydrogen fuel cells,” she said. “Batteries are expensive, take a long time to charge, and have limitations when it comes to driving range. Hydrogen-powered vehicles, on the other hand, more closely resemble combustion engines when it comes to the user experience.”

Muoio noted that three manufacturers build hydrogen cars for broad sale and nine others are at various stages of development, including:

Honda Clarity, first sold in 2016, is now priced at a $369 a month for 36 months with $2,868 due at signing. The EPA gave the car an estimated range of 366 miles — the longest range of any zero-emissions vehicle.  Honda says the Clarity has a refuel time of just three to five minutes, the story author said.

Honda and General Motors have invested $85 million to mass produce hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles beginning in 2020, while Honda is working with Northeast regulators to introduce the car in states like New York and Connecticut.

Toyota, which has worked on hydrogen technology for an industry best 23 years, began selling the Mirai in Japan in late 2014 and in California in October 2015 — the first hydrogen-powered car sold in the U.S. Toyota plans to sell 30,000 a year worldwide by 2020. The Toyota Mirai has an EPA estimated range of 312 miles and refuels in five minutes.

Lexus looks to unveil a hydrogen car two years from now but there are few details. A concept model has luxury perks.

Audi displayed the h-tron quattro at the 2016 Detriot Auto Show. It is said to go 372 miles on just hydrogen. The mustard yellow, fuel cell car can bolt from 0 to 62 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Audi.

BMW will team with Toyota to build hydrogen drive-trains in their 2020 car. The vehicles will have a range exceeding 300 miles, BMW said, and a refuel time of less than five minutes.

Once intending to work with Mercedes-Benz's parent Daimler and Nissan on fuel-cell technology, Ford's vision is now on battery-powered vehicles. But Raj Nair, chief technology officer for Ford, told Business Insider the alliance still exists.

“We are still investing and we are still doing research, and it’s still something that we are very interested in,” he said.

Mercedes-Benz rolled out a hydrogen-powered SUV at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2017. Built on the same manufacturing platform as its GLC SUV, the H2 vehicle would start selling in late 2019. The 197-hp SUV comes with a battery pack that allows it to achieve a combined range of 271 miles.

Salt Lake City-based startup Nikola Motor Co. unveiled a hydrogen-powered truck in late 2016 that it said will have a range of 800 to 1,200 miles, cost $5,000 to $7,000 a month to lease and would arrive in 2020.

Hyundai has been leasing its Tucson Fuel Cell, a compact SUV, in California. The automaker had delivered 140 of the hydrogen-powered vehicles as of last spring.

Luxury brand Genesis unveiled a hydrogen concept, the GV80, at the New York Auto Show last year but it won't enter production.