According to many, hydrogen cars are our best hope for a future free of oil. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it is already a proven way of powering vehicles, has only water as a waste product, and avoids all the range problems inherent with electric cars by having regular refueling stations. They drive, stop, and refuel just like the gas-burning cars we are used to but without the toxic output.
Unfortunately, hydrogen has always faced a classic “chicken and egg” problem – the automakers are hesitant to build a mass number of cars until there is infrastructure to support them, and service stations won’t convert even one pump over to hydrogen until there is enough demand. So before we can realize this bright future of driving no-polluting cars we have to solve this circular supply/demand problem first.
Chicken and egg problems are common in the business environment and most likely everyone has encountered a few of these intractable situations in their careers. Simply invoking this phrase is often enough to say that the problem is impossible to solve and everyone should just move on. However, is that really the truth?
Historically the major automakers have all been taking their own approaches to developing hydrogen vehicles. Separately, none of them have been able to solve the infrastructure problem. Now 3 of the biggest manufacturers in the world are teaming up to create a “chicken” to bring to bear enough market pressure for private firms to build the “egg” for them. Mercedes, Ford, and Nissan-Renault have just inked a deal to cooperate on developing standards and technology for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The alliance will see the companies jointly develop a common fuel cell system and define global standards and specifications. Together, they hope to launch the first mass-market hydrogen vehicles in 2017. By creating the demand, they are putting the onus on the current infrastructure operators to service the hydrogen fuel need.
This kind of solution is as elegant as it is effective. By using a bit of creativity and realizing that going alone separately was not going to solve this problem, this globe-spanning joint venture not only instantly solves the problems of scale, development cost, and uniformity concerns but also destroys the concept that circular problems cannot be solved. Chicken and egg problems are often invoked to describe intractable problems that are not intractable at all. With some creative deal-making three companies in one of the most conservative industries have just solved their “unsolvable” problem. It is this kind of thinking that is required to solve your own chicken and egg dilemma.