By the mid-2000s, the dream of hydrogen-powered cars had faded in the face of stubborn practicalities like the lack of charging stations and the inefficiency of fuel cells. But as the auto industry wrestles with the limitations of battery-powered electric vehicles, the dream lives on. That is apparent at the Paris Auto Show.
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When the show opened last month, battery-driven electric vehicles stood front and center (see "Renault and Others Debut Electric Cars at Paris Show"). But hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles were also omnipresent. Show visitors could test-drive seven fuel-cell cars from leading automakers (including an SUV that Hyundai plans to begin leasing this winter), and a bevy of snazzy concept cars conjured up visions of a hydrogen-fueled future.
Automakers are showing new interest because key problems with fuel cells—their limited capacity to convert hydrogen to electricity and their susceptibility to freezing—have largely been overcome in recent years. At the same time, the first mass-produced electric vehicles based on batteries—the fuel cell's technological rival for the zero-emissions mantle—have seen sales slow because their range remains disappointing and their prices high.
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