Hydrogen Refueling Takes Longer Than Advertised


The Hyundai Tucson FCEV is here. Well, that depends on where “here” is, exactly, but if you live in Arizona, California, or Vancouver, you can scoot on over to your nearest Hyundai dealer and pick one up for yourself — if you qualify. Hyundai won’t lease (you can’t buy one) its hydrogen powered car to just anyone. First, you have to prove you live or work near a hydrogen refueling station, which is supposed to provide a faster refueling option than electric cars. But what if it actually doesn’t?

Since June of last year, Hyundai has leased 68 Tucson FCEVs. If that seems like a small number to you, keep in mind that Honda leased fewer of its Clarity FCV sedans in 6 years from 2008 through 2014. These cars are not shaking the foundations of the auto industry just yet. Toyota says they will though. It is making a major push to bring fuel cell technology to the world and will introduce the Mirai, its first FCV, later this year (though in extremely limited numbers). Honda says it will have a fuel cell powered sedan on the market sometime in 2016.

One of the main reasons Toyota says fuel cells will rule the world is because the cars can be refueled in about 3 minutes. That’s roughly the same amount of time it takes to fill the tank of a conventional internal combustion engine car. Toyota says people don’t want to wait 30 minutes or an hour to recharge their electric or plug-in hybrid cars, and they may have a point. They conveniently forget to mention, however, that there are virtually no hydrogen refueling stations in America, outside of certain parts of California, or that building one costs about a zillion dollars.

Recently, Green Car Reports reached out to some Tucson FCEV owners to find out what driving one is like. What they found is that people really like their cars, but not for the reasons you might think. What they seem to like best about them is they are an FCEV in an SUV body. There’s a reason SUVs are the hottest segment of the market. These cars do what people want their cars to do. They haul kids and bikes, kayaks and Golden Retrievers. They can take you camping, bring home the groceries and get you to the office.

Paul Berkman of Corona Del Mar, California told Green Car Reports that he has put 9,300 miles on his Tucson FCEV in the past 6 months traveling between the three restaurants and the B&B he owns. When it comes to refueling, he says it’s pretty much like putting gas in a regular car, except the pump looks futuristic and the nozzle gets cold during the process. But here’s the thing hydrogen fuel advocates won’t be happy about. Berkman reports the oft touted “three minute fill-up” is a myth. Out in the real world, his refueling time is more like 10 minutes. While we haven’t heard any reports on the actual fill-up time of the Toyota Mirai, this sounds more like a pump problem than a car problem.

Are you listening, Toyota? Your highly touted three minute fill-up claim is a crock. And people don’t want a sedan, even if it’s powered by moonbeams or pixie dust. They want a minivan or an SUV, a car that will do more than just get them to work and back. By focusing on fill-up times, Toyota can’t see the forest for the trees, and if FCVs can’t even deliver on their sole advantage over electric cars, what chance do they stand in the real world?

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.