First, the similarities. Both battery electric and fuel cell vehicles use electric motors instead of gasoline- or diesel-powered internal combustion engines for propulsion. And because neither EVs nor FCEVs consume fossil fuel, both are zero-emission vehicles. Another benefit is that they require less maintenance.
The differences? While both battery electric and fuel cell vehicles are powered by electricity, the source of the electricity is fundamentally different. An EV uses energy stored in a rechargeable battery pack. When it’s depleted, it must be recharged from the power grid, either from a wall socket or a dedicated charging unit.
Battery electric and fuel cell vehicles also differ in range and how long they take to refuel. Most EVs have ranges of about 75 to 110 miles, well within the daily drive distances of most Americans. (Tesla’s Model S and Model X, and Chevy’s Bolt, are exceptions at about 200 to 300 miles.)
Typical EV charge times from empty are as rapid as a half-hour for an 80 percent charge on a DC quick charger, about 7 to 10 hours for a full charge on a 240-volt line, and up to 24 hours on 120 volts. In practice, however, many drivers find that they only need to charge long enough to replace the distance driven that day, which can significantly reduce charging times.
By contrast, today’s FCEVs have ranges of 250 to 300 miles and refill times of 5 to 10 minutes, comparable to gasoline vehicles. But to gain widespread acceptance, fuel cell vehicles will require hydrogen fueling infrastructure. A few dozen such facilities are operational, with most in California and the East Coast, and more are in the works.
In comparison, there are more than 35,000 existing public charging outlets nationwide, with many more coming online daily. Plus, most battery electric vehicle owners use home and work outlets.
The Honda Clarity sedan is the most recent fuel cell vehicle available to the public. Sold and leased only in California, it was introduced in late 2016. The Clarity produces 174 horsepower, similar to an economical gasoline-powered sedan. It has an EPA-estimated range of about 366 miles, and a 68 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) rating.
Honda offers the Clarity on a 36-month lease with 20,000 miles per year for $369 per month with $2499 down, and includes $15,000 worth of free hydrogen fuel.
In 2015, Toyota introduced its fuell-cell Mirai sedan. It produces 153 horsepower and has an EPA-estimated range of about 312 miles, and a 63 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) rating.
The Mirai can be leased for $499 per month for 36 months. Similar to Honda's lease deal, Toyota provides customers with free hydrogen fuel for three years. By mid-August 2016, Toyota had sold or leased just over 400 Mirais.
Range: 84-107 miles
Charge per hour (estimated):
Tesla Model S
Range: 210-335 miles
Charge per hour (estimated):
Hydrogen fuel cell
Range: 312 miles
Refueling time: 5 minutes
Efficiency rating: 63 MPGe
0-60 mph time: 9.4 seconds
Want to compare more green cars?
The annual AAA Green Car Guide is a detailed guidebook to green vehicles including fuel-efficient gas vehicles, along with electric, hybrid, diesel, and alternative-fueled vehicles. It also provides real-world evaluations of the vehicles to help you determine which car might best suit your lifestyle.