Hydrogen holdup delays Toyota Mirai rollout
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.”