More than any other car maker, Toyota has been a strong advocate for fuel cell powered cars. What is an FCEV? It’s an electric car that does not use a battery as its main source of power. Instead it has a fuel cell that converts liquid hydrogen into electricity, which is then used to turn an electric motor. The Mirai has a tiny 1 kWh battery to help out when demand for electricity is greater than the fuel cell can provide. The beauty of the whole hydrogen scenario is that emissions consist of nothing more than water vapor and heat. You can’t get any greener than that, can you?
Toyota has invested billions to develop its first fuel cell car, the Mirai. Toyota expects to deliver a total of 300 of the cars between the United States and Europe in 2016. Compared to the global automobile market of nearly 50 million vehicles, that is an infinitesimal amount, no more than a fly speck, really. But Toyota is convinced hydrogen power is the future. With considerable urging from the Japanese government, it has bet virtually the company’s entire future company on hydrogen power.
But Nagoya, we have a problem! According to Inside EVs, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America, has instructed the dealers who handle the cars, including its highest volume dealer located in Santa Monica, California, to stop delivering cars to new customers. Why? There just aren’t enough hydrogen refueling stations available to for the 72 Mirai sedans that are already on the road . The ones that do exist don’t work very well, either. Toyota advertising for the Mirai carries the slogan “Let’s Go Places.” But right now, there are precious few places a Mirai driver can actually go.
“It is not a stop-sale, we have just asked (the dealers) not to make deliveries until we have a station open,” Lentz told the press at the Detroit auto show. “There are fewer stations than we would have preferred right now.” The California Energy Commission had projected there would be 53 hydrogen stations open in the state by the end of 2015. Instead, there were only five and one of those is out of service most of the time. The others had various issues that have kept them from actually pumping hydrogen. As a result, Toyota had to hastily install temporary refueling stations to meet the demand from Mirai drivers.
Even those were only able to fill the hydrogen tanks on board the cars half way and drivers had to make an appointment to get their hydrogen. That left drivers with only 150 miles of range before they had to go through the whole agonizing process again. None of this zipping in for a quick fill up like Toyota promised.
“I’m pretty confident by the end of the year we’re going to get to 48. It’s just growing pains,” Lentz says. What he doesn’t say is who will foot the bill for those stations. A hydrogen refueling station costs between $1 and $3 million to construct. Clearly, Toyota expects the taxpayers of California to pony up the money needed to build more.
What Toyota is left with is a hydrogen fueled car that is as homely as a mailman’s behind, as my old Irish grandmother would say. It can only go about 150 miles on a half tank of fuel and requires the driver to show up when scheduled. Oh, it’s also slower than a battery electric car and has the handling prowess of a 1948 Hudson. What’s not to like?
If the taxpayers of California have any sense, they will tell Toyota to build its own damn refueling stations, just like Tesla is building its own SuperCharger network. Maybe 50 years from now, the world will run on hydrogen power, but right now, this is the wrong technology, at the wrong time, and the wrong price.