BOULDER, CO – Commercial sales of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will likely reach the key milestone of 1 million vehicles by 2020, with a cumulative 1.2 million vehicles sold by the end of that year, according to a new report from Pike Research.

The report projects that FCVs will capture an increasingly large share of the global passenger car and transit bus markets. For the passenger car market, fuel cells offer the benefits of zero-emissions operation without the range and charging limitations of pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The fuel cell car market is now in the ramp-up phase to commercialization, anticipated by automakers to happen around 2015. 

“The fact that fuel cells for passenger cars are still being pursued may come as a surprise to casual observers of the clean vehicle technology arena,” said senior analyst Lisa Jerram.  “However, automakers such as Toyota, Daimler, GM, Honda and Hyundai have all said that fuel cells are a critical piece of a complete clean vehicle portfolio. With fuel cells, they see the opportunity to offer a zero-emissions car with a 300-mile range in the larger vehicle platforms.”

Jerram added that to meet the 2015 commercialization target, automakers will need to spend the next few years validating performance and reducing costs. Early adoption is likely to be focused in Japan, Germany and California, where there is significant fueling infrastructure planned. 

Transit buses have also been used as a test bed for fuel cell technology, though they lag somewhat behind cars in the timeframe for commercial viability. Transit fuel cell buses offer zero emissions and low noise operation, as well as greater fuel efficiency than internal combustion engines. Pike Research’s projections are for commercially viable transit buses to follow that of light-duty vehicles, with this market more dependent on subsidies or incentives for adoption than the car market.

Pike Research’s analysis concludes that, during the pre-commercialization period from 2010 to 2014, approximately 10,000 FCVs will be deployed. Following that phase, the firm forecasts that 57,000 FCVs will be sold in 2015, with sales volumes ramping to 390,000 vehicles annually by 2020. These figures represent a downgrade from Pike Research’s previous FCV forecasts published in the first quarter of 2010.

Pike Research’s report, “Fuel Cell Vehicles,” analyzes opportunities and challenges in the development of commercially viable fuel cell cars, buses and trucks. An executive summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

Pike Research is a market research and consulting firm that provides analysis of global clean technology markets.