Good news, hydrogen fuel cell fans. You can lease a Toyota Mirai — if you live in southern California and within 25 miles of a functioning hydrogen refueling station — for just $499 a month. You can also lease a Hyundai Tucson FCEV for $499 a month. Now, Honda says its new hydrogen fuel cell powered sedan, the Clarity, will lease for “under $500 a month.” How much you want to bet that means $499?
Isn’t competition great? Thanks to the magic of free market forces, three manufacturers, toiling away for years on three different cars with three different fuel cells, have all decided independently of each other that the monthly lease value of their cars is identical. Talk about Adam Smith and the all powerful “invisible hand” of capitalism!
The Clarity is expected to go on sale in America before the end of 2016. Unlike its two competitors, a customer will be able to buy one instead of leasing it, once demand picks up and more hydrogen refueling stations get built. Honda hints the sale price will be right around $60,000, according to Motor Authority. Oddly enough, that is very close to what Toyota says its Mirai would cost, if you could buy one, which you can’t.
Honda says it will build three cars on the newly designed Clarity chassis — the fuel cell car first, then a plug-in hybrid later. That raises the question of whether the Accord plug-in hybrid will ever return to Honda’s product lineup. Ultimately, Honda expects to offer a battery electric car using the Clarity chassis as well. Building multiple cars on the same platform helps spread the costs of development among several models.
Conventional wisdom says manufacturers are losing their shirts on every fuel cell car built, so making the same chassis do double or triple duty makes sense. Hyundai is doing something similar with its new Ioniq. That car will offer customers a choice of hybrid or plug-in hybrid power plus a pure electric powertrain. All three versions are expected in showrooms by the end of the year.
All of this excitement does not make up for the fact that there are less than a half dozen hydrogen refueling stations in the entire country today. Imagine where Tesla would be if its SuperCharger network consisted of only 6 stations? The difference between Tesla and the makers of hydrogen fueled cars is the PHEV crowd expects taxpayers to pony up the money to build the hydrogen infrastructure. Tesla is paying the full cost of its charging network itself.
Toyota says there will be nearly 50 hydrogen fueling stations open in California soon. “I’m pretty confident by the end of the year we’re going to get to 48. It’s just growing pains,” says Jim Lentz, head of Toyota’s North American operations. What he doesn’t say is that Toyota expects California taxpayers to foot the bill. A hydrogen station costs as much as $3,000,000. Multiply that times 48 and then ask yourself if that is a wise investment for Californians. Isn’t there something else it could spend nearly $150,000,000 tax dollars on? Talk about your corporate welfare.
In the meantime, Toyota has told the few dealers who carry the Mirai to stop delivering them to customers until someone can figure out how to refuel them reliably. The hydrogen car revolution, for the moment, appears to be in full retreat.