Hy­dro­gen holdup de­lays Toy­ota Mi­rai roll­out

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - GABRIELLE COP­POLA

Toy­ota, off to a slow start sell­ing its car of the fu­ture on one U.S. coast, is strug­gling even to get started on the other.

Hang-ups get­ting enough hy­dro­gen fu­elling sta­tions opened in Cal­i­for­nia have un­der­cut early sales of Toy­ota’s fuel cell ve­hi­cle called Mi­rai, the Ja­panese word for “fu­ture.” But states on the East Coast, in­clud­ing New York, Connecticut and Mas­sachusetts, are still wait­ing for their first sta­tions to open at all.

The au­tomaker and part­ner Air Liq­uide had hoped to have a dozen ready on the East Coast this sum­mer. Now, they’re aim­ing for just three or four by year-end.

The time­line “changes all the time,” said Bob Oester­re­ich, direc­tor of the U.S. hy­dro­gen-en­ergy busi­ness at Air Liq­uide, which Toy­ota re­cruited to help build the sta­tions that need to be in place be­fore it can start sell­ing Mi­rai. “We’re deal­ing with govern­ment of­fi­cials and plan­ning boards and every­one’s got their own pri­or­i­ties, and some­times hy­dro­gen re­fu­elling sta­tions aren’t at the top of their list.”

The de­lays get­ting hy­dro­gen sta­tions opened are trou­bling for Toy­ota’s wa­ger on fuel cell ve­hi­cles over bat­tery-elec­tric cars. While sales of all zero-emis­sion au­tos are still in their in­fancy, Tesla, Gen­eral Mo­tors and Nis­san are mak­ing much faster head­way get­ting plug-ins into con­sumers’ garages. Pub­lic charg­ing points to re­plen­ish their bat­ter­ies also have taken off far more quickly.

The leisurely pace of sales for Toy­ota is in part ex­plained by the fact that only 28 re­tail fu­elling sta­tions op­er­ate in the lone state where Mi­rai is be­ing sold, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Fuel Cell Part­ner­ship. The state’s pow­er­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tor, the Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board, orig­i­nally es­ti­mated back in 2015 that 44 sta­tions would be open by the end of that year.

In­fra­struc­ture ef­forts in Cal­i­for­nia have been be­hind sched­ule de­spite the full back­ing of Gov. Jerry Brown and CARB chair Mary Ni­chols.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween sta­tion de­vel­op­ers and city plan­ners, plus co­or­di­na­tion with lo­cal util­i­ties and per­mit is­sues, have be­dev­illed com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Air Liq­uide.

Toy­ota has re­mained stead­fast in its fuel cell ve­hi­cle bet be­cause hy­dro­gen-pow­ered cars like Mi­rai have su­pe­rior driv­ing ranges and can be tanked up in three min­utes, rather than the hours it takes to charge bat­tery-elec­tric au­tos.

“This is the tran­si­tion tech­nol­ogy from gaso­line,” said Craig Scott, direc­tor of Toy­ota’s ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies group in the U.S. While fu­elling up at a hy­dro­gen sta­tion will feel a lot like your gas-sta­tion ex­pe­ri­ence to­day, he said it’ll take time. “You don’t get every­body on the first wave, es­pe­cially if you have some­thing out­side-of-the-box. It lit­er­ally takes decades to move peo­ple.”

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