For those following the rise of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, 2016 was supposed to be a big year. A new model would enter the market; hydrogen stations would come online with more renewables in the mix; and U.S. consumers would be able to see the benefits of the alternative-fuel option firsthand. Though all these things are going as planned, there are several reasons for fuel cell pessimism, especially with respect to fueling infrastructure.
We’ll buck tradition and go with the good news first. On March 10, Honda announced the start of sales for its Clarity fuel cell model in Japan. Though only government and business customers will have access to the new model at first, the automaker reiterated that Clarity would be available (via lease) in the U.S. before 2016 is over. Like the other models on the market, this edition can run over 250 miles on full hydrogen tanks.
More good news came out of Honda camp in the announcement the company would work with General Motors on lowering the cost of fuel cell cars through joint production and component procurement, Bloomberg reported. The two automakers have the goal of bringing the price of the vehicles in line with hybrids by 2025. (A 2016 Mirai retails at $57,500, while Clarity will be priced at $60,000 or leased at $500 per month.)
Those two Japanese-branded vehicles will join the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle on the road in California. As of February 2016, drivers of the alt-fuel Tucson had covered one million miles, which amounts to substantial emissions savings. (In January, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy rated this compact SUV “superior” in its annual green car rankings.)
Despite these developments and the promise of the technology, finding and driving a fuel cell vehicle remains a tough task in the first half of the year.
In January, Toyota officials had to tell dealers in some areas to hold off on delivering the Mirai to consumers on the waiting list because the number of fueling stations was still limited. A check of the U.S. Department of Energy website shows 19 hydrogen stations online as of March. However, some stations are unable to remain open for long stretches of time.
Looking at the Southern California stations on the map Toyota displays for Mirai shoppers, only two hydrogen stations were labeled open in the LA area, with another six in the “soft open” department. Another 18 are expected to come online in the area by the end of 2016. Dozens more are in the permit process, with authorization dates unknown.
For now, customers hoping to get into a fuel cell vehicle have to get lucky. Hyundai has over 100 Tucson fuel cell models on the road. After four months of Mirai sales, Toyota has 113 on the road, according to InsideEVs. Until the fueling issues are fixed, fuel cell vehicles are beyond a tough sell. They are impossible to consider.