Close-up of the fuel cell power control unit in a 2024 Toyota Mirai.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Are Heating Up

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the past decade or so, you’ve most likely heard of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). They’ve been taking the nation by storm, offering an efficient and environmentally friendly way to travel, prompting more drivers to ditch the gas station in favor of the charging station. With models from Tesla, Chevy, Ford, Rivian, and other industry giants showing up on more roadways across the nation, many travelers feel as though they have to pick a BEV if they want to do some good for our planet. That’s not necessarily the case, though, as there’s a new crop of electric vehicles out there that tend to hide in the shadows, not yet ready for the spotlight.

Let’s say you’re passing by your local Toyota dealer and notice the sleek and stylish Mirai displayed proudly on the lot. You may not be aware that this model is actually a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) designed to heighten efficiency and performance in new ways without burning any gasoline or ever needing to be plugged in. So, what exactly is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and what models are available in the industry?

What Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles?

Let’s quickly get the logistics of how hydrogen fuel cell vehicles work out of the way, and then we’ll get to the fun stuff. A hydrogen fuel cell model is a type of electric vehicle that utilizes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. While filling up an FCEV is similar to putting gas in a traditional gas-powered vehicle, fuel cell vehicles emit no harmful tailpipe emissions; they only emit water and air. This makes them extremely beneficial to our environment, and what’s more, drivers don’t have to stress about finding a way to charge them up as they do with EVs.

Like Teslas and other BEVs, fuel cell vehicles are powered by electric motors, but instead of getting electricity from a battery, which needs to be charged up, fuel cell vehicles store hydrogen in a specialized tank. Hydrogen fuel stations utilize a similar dispensing system as your traditional gas station, albeit with a different nozzle, so fueling up is pretty much the same as a gas-powered vehicle. Drivers like the fact that they can fill up their vehicles quickly, as opposed to those who have to sit for 20-30 minutes at a charging station to charge up their BEV. This allows FCEVs to be the perfect blend between gas-powered vehicles and BEVs, which appeals to many drivers on the fence about electrification.

A red 2024 Toyota Mirai Limited parked in a modern showroom at a Toyota dealer.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Models Available

With all the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, you’d think that there would be more of them on the roads these days. Unfortunately, this type of vehicle hasn’t really taken off quite yet; however, the future is bright for this technology. The good news is that the models that are available are impressive and ready to add a spark to the daily drive that travelers never knew existed. Let’s meet the lineup.

Toyota Mirai

By far the most popular of the fuel cell bunch, the Toyota Mirai isn’t just strikingly beautiful; its performance and ride quality are absolutely sensational. Its luxurious presence and classy appearance set it apart from the competition, and with a driving range of 402 miles, it’s no secret that the 2024 Mirai delivers when it comes to an efficient ride. The newest models on the streets feature plenty of upgrades to elevate the status of this fantastic traveler, with enhancements to its safety systems and more innovative tech. Fresh colors and design elements are also available to make this midsize sedan more ravishing than ever.

Its ride quality is energetic yet sophisticated, allowing it to be the ideal everyday commuter, while its interior cabin wraps its occupants in lavish luxury to elevate the feeling of the ride. Copper accents, perforated SofTex-trimmed seats, multi-color ambient lighting, a dual fixed panoramic moonroof, and more available features add an elegance to this traveler that’s difficult to find in the competition. Outside, its coupe design accentuates its athletic appeal, with sparkling LED lighting elements to illuminate the way to any destination while showing off its modern curves and sleek bodywork.

The Mirai is loaded with some of the most advanced tech in the industry, including a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, wireless smartphone capabilities, a 14-speaker JBL premium audio system, and more helpful and innovative features to add value to the ride. Like a true Toyota, it’s also armed with the latest safety and assistance features and has outstanding reliability coursing through it. The Mirai is a definite showstopper, and it’s an overall winner for those who want an alternative to the never-ending sea of BEVs out there.

Hyundai Nexo

In the compact SUV segment lies the Nexo, which was launched in 2019. The Nexo showcases a dynamic ride with practical yet modern vibes emanating throughout. Another great commuter pick, this small-size SUV can travel an estimated 380 miles before a fill-up, offering a smooth and responsive ride. There’s room for five passengers and 56.5 cu.ft. of space for gear in 2024 models, which makes it perfect for a variety of travelers. Plus, with a large 12.3-inch touchscreen and other handy tech features, like a hydrogen fuel station locator, the Nexo is a solid option for drivers who desire a downright comfortable and capable way to travel.

Close-up of a hydrogen refueling pump connected to a 2024 Hyundai Nexo.

Honda Clarity

It’s the original fuel cell vehicle, and when it comes to impeccable engineering and top-notch features, this midsize sedan delivers. Although you won’t find new models available anymore since the Clarity was discontinued after the 2021 model year, this car can be found on used lots, perfect for those who are looking for an affordable way to hop on the hydrogen train. Not only is the Clarity quick off the line, but it’s also incredibly roomy and comfortable, which makes it an ideal solution for families. Plenty of tech is also available, including smartphone integration, a 12-speaker audio system, multiple USB ports, and, of course, safety and driver assist features to add value to the everyday ride.

The Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

Although hydrogen fuel cell vehicles haven’t quite caught on yet, it doesn’t mean that some of the biggest auto manufacturers in the industry aren’t working on perfecting this type of engineering. In addition to Toyota and Hyundai, brands like BMW, Land Rover, and others are working on their own versions of these models. Even Honda hasn’t given up the fuel cell fight despite pulling the plug on the Clarity and has announced plans for an FCEV version of the CR-V. This just goes to show how valuable fuel cell vehicles can be to the future of travel, as well as our environment. This also means that drivers have more choices than they originally realized when it comes to how they travel.

Contrary to popular belief, BEVs are not the be-all and end-all in the automotive world. Gas-powered vehicles are still very prevalent, hybrids are gaining momentum, and fuel cell technology continues to evolve. It should be no surprise that Toyota is leading the FCEV revolution since it is one of the few manufacturers committed to improving all forms of automotive propulsion rather than betting the house on BEVs. Fuel cell vehicles are expected to become more popular as auto manufacturers shift from gas to electricity, especially for drivers who want an affordable, convenient, and efficient way to get to all their destinations.