COVID-19 and its Impact on the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Market

COVID hydrogen impact

The Growing Outlook for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles 

While automotive manufacturers take action to care first for their employees, families, and communities, they’re closely watching for key changes and decisions that will color their strategic business planning in the years to come:

  • Length of manufacturing operations shutdowns
  • OPEC production cuts and the impact on gas prices
  • Consumers’ priorities and cultural shift in the wake of the epidemic

The global economic forecast for the automotive industry offers new challenges and opportunities for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As we collectively look for bright spots during this time, consider the world’s growing awareness of our power to create change. The crisis has given the public a quantifiable look at how quickly we can drop emissions with a shift to green energy.

With fewer drivers on the roads, countries like China are experiencing significantly reduced air pollution. Similarly, shutdowns in Italy caused incredibly clear waters throughout cities like Venice.

China pollution drop

NASA images show China pollution reduction a 25% emissions reduction amid 4-week slowdown. Credit: BBC News

In the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market, pre-existing barriers to entry, most importantly, cost and production volumes were tied to:

  • Availability of low cost, durable fuel cells
  • High density of energy storage for reasonable range and quick refilling 
  • Matched functionality, reliability, and cost as gas-fueled competitors
  • Same safety features as gas-fueled vehicles

Quick refilling and range are superior to battery-powered electric vehicles but given the current cost differences and a dramatic economic downturn due to COVID-19, timeline setbacks for large-scale adoption of hydrogen fuel cell consumer vehicles are likely.

The same may not be the case for fleet vehicles, though. While automotive manufacturers closely watch for changes to emissions regulations, the pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities:



  • Public transportation budgets will be severely strained due to reduced ridership
  • EU leaders are under pressure to abandon the EU Green Deal
  • US initial stimulus packages support only fossil fuel industries
  • Volatile oil prices may prompt energy majors to boost investments in green technologies
  • Low interest rates are a golden opportunity for low-cost infrastructure investments to decarbonize industrial sectors
  • Support for autonomous vehicles—closely linked to EV and FCEV development—is soaring in China as the country recognizes the need for driverless delivery in a pandemic

As governments debate sector-specific bailouts for industries like cruise lines, airlines, and public transit, there is the opportunity for a significant reduction in carbon footprint with a large-scale investment in hydrogen.

Major energy companies may also recognize the need to diversify investments into green technologies, helping to secure a resilient supply chain for hydrogen.

China is the first country to recognize the urgent need for driverless delivery in a pandemic. The increased pressure for autonomous fleet vehicles may also help to offset any timeline setbacks for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, as hydrogen has proven to be a beneficial platform for electricity-dependent onboard computers. Hyundai has found that fully-autonomous modules can consume as much power as 50-100 laptops, making hydrogen fuel cells a clear choice.

For manufacturers who are bringing innovative technologies to market that can accelerate the viability of hydrogen fuel cells, we’re grateful for the advocacy and public spotlight as an impetus of change.

“The global health crisis has thrown the need for sustainable decarbonization of the energy system into sharp relief, and decision makers will have to confront this reality once the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.” Jennifer Gordon, managing editor and senior fellow, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council

Discover more about Haskel’s hydrogen innovations.

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