"It has been a chicken-and-egg issue for at least a couple of decades: vehicle first or gas station first?" Ahn said.
According to the website of the U.S. Department of Energy, the country has nine public refueling stations, all located in California. Countries including Germany, Denmark and South Korea have plans to roll out dozens of stations in coming years.
"Fueling is particularly difficult because the amount of money that would have to be put in to get hydrogen generated at filling stations is very costly and would require cooperation from everyone from the automaker to the government to the fueling station owners," See said. "So it's a very complex system and also a high cost."
Despite the slow sales of battery-powered cars, the head-start they have over fuel-cell cars gives them a definitive advantage in terms of price. Currently analysts estimate that it costs about $100,000 to make a fuel-cell car.
While the fuel-cell ix35 production cost is confidential, Ahn says Hyundai's target sale price for the next three to five years for the vehicle is $50,000. The price of a petrol-powered ix35 starts at around $20,000.
See also notes that as regular petrol-powered vehicles get increasingly fuel efficient they present another attractive choice for consumers.
"They don't force you to change your habits in terms of fueling -- you can still fill up at a gas station -- and that's a much lower barrier for broader entry to market."