Cars

Fuel cell outlook; buying American; 10 million Camrys

Toyota’s Camry hit a big milestone this month as the company continues celebrating its 30-year anniversary of doing business here.
Toyota’s Camry hit a big milestone this month as the company continues celebrating its 30-year anniversary of doing business here.Cars.com

Sometimes we forget just how handy those gas pumps are outside our local convenience store.

Even if we’re using crumpled-up dollars from the bottom of a pocketbook or sharing gas money with passengers, unleaded gasoline is readily available.

Diesel fuel isn’t quite as commonplace, but it’s getting there. Drivers of diesel-powered vehicles still have to pay extra for each gallon but they no longer have to search all over for fuel or know the location of every truck stop in the region.

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As the automotive landscape changes, it’s now the all-electric and plug-in hybrid drivers who have to search for charging stations and plan their trips around places to recharge their vehicles as the infrastructure continues to develop.

Next up will be fuel cells. These vehicles create their own electricity from hydrogen via a chemical process inside the fuel cell. That electricity in turn powers the electric motors in the same way batteries power the electric motors in hybrids.

Ten years ago, I had a chance to drive the Honda FCX—a legitimate full-sized sedan powered by a fuel cell. The driving experience was indistinguishable from driving today’s state-of-the-art hybrids.

The problem is those Hondas are hand-built at a cost of approximately $1 million apiece and there are only 85 of them in service.

Proponents long have considered fuel cells a panacea for many of our transportation-related issues: foreign oil dependency, greenhouse gases, driving range, and quick refueling times. The hydrogen is renewable and the vehicles’ only emission is water vapor.

Even though Honda has been leasing those hand-built FCXs (now the FCX Clarity) for the last decade, the refueling infrastructure is almost nonexistent for the average driver. There are fewer than 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States and only about 20 of them are open to the public.

Is it pie in the sky to think fuel cells will be big?

It doesn’t seem that way. Honda and General Motors this month announced a long-term plan to co-develop the next generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technology. The collaboration is aimed to be ready around 2020 and the companies will share expertise, economies of scale, and common sourcing.

In addition, the two companies plan to work to help advance the refueling infrastructure, which will be vital for both early adopters of the technology and later general consumer acceptance.

In that endeavor, they’ll be joining another consortium. In May, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota joined with the US Department of Energy in a public-private partnership to prepare for the first major expected wave of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Toyota has plans to sell its first fuel-cell vehicles in 2015, and Hyundai is building a fuel-cell version of its Tucson crossover with plans to sell 1,000 by 2015, when a next generation will launch that it hopes will sell 10,000.

This partnership is named H2USA after the chemical symbol for hydrogen.

Buying American

We should know by now that the domestic brands, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, all use many imported parts in their vehicles.

Adding to the international flavor of motor vehicles, most foreign brands build at least part of their model lineup in the United States.

With that in mind, it’s hard to take seriously TrueCar’s recent ranking of the “most patriotic” states when it comes to car-buying. TrueCar is a California company that compiles and analyzes car-buying data.

On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to resist peeking at the rankings both to see which state purchased the most domestic brands, which bought the most imports, and where Massachusetts ranks.

Michigan led in domestic purchases with 79.2 percent of the new cars sold being built by the Big Three. North Dakota (68.1 percent), South Dakota (65.6), Iowa (63.2), and Wyoming (62.6) rounded out the top five.

The states least likely to buy new domestic vehicles are Hawaii (19.4 percent) followed by the District of Columbia (22.6), California (22.9), Connecticut, and Massachusetts (25.8).

10M Camrys Can’t be Wrong

Toyota’s Camry, the top-selling car in the United States for the past 11 years, hit a big milestone this month as the company continues celebrating its 30-year anniversary of doing business here.

The milestone: the 10 millionth Camry sold in the United States.

Camry was introduced to the US market in 1983 and sold 52,651 vehicles in its first full year. Thirty years later, 773 of those originals still are on the road.

Overall, there are approximately 6.4 million Camrys registered, representing seven generations of design.

As a follow-up to the previous item, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls Camry the “most American made car” with 75 percent of its contents coming from domestic sources.

Etc.

Today is Micro Car Day at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. It’s a great day for photographs. Next Sunday, American cars and trucks take over the lawns … However, the July 20 big event is a testament to social media. Spikes Ride For Boston! is taking over Brockton Fairgrounds for a day of cars and music to benefit Boston Marathon bombing survivors. Check it out on Facebook. Where many car clubs are organized by the older generations, this is America’s youth at work for a charitable endeavor.

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