Volkswagen's Wolfgang Steiger predicted that fuel cell cars will not reach 1 percent of new car sales before 2030, growing to a 50 percent market share 20 years later. A DaimlerChrysler researcher was slightly more optimistic, forecasting a single-digit share of the new-car market as early as 2020. Ford Motor's Gerhard Schmidt swung the other way, saying a 50 percent market share by 2050 seemed optimistic.
Filling the gap? Hybrids. Toyota expects its hybrid sales to blow through the 1 million units a year milestone early next decade, with auto parts supplier Bosch forecasting hybrid sales of 2.4 million units a year by 2015.
Meanwhile, dramatic improvement in the efficiency of gasoline engines, together with the development of clean diesels, is giving the internal combustion engine a new lease on life.
With U.S. automakers well behind the power curve of hybrid technology development and product rollout (Ford's hybrids notwithstanding), basing their strategies on an ethanol-based transition to a hydrogen future could leave them on the outside looking in, provided hybrids gain the hearts and minds of car buyers in the next decade.