Toyota’s Fuel Cell Car: Pay Twice as Much per Mile Than Prius Hybrid

It promises to combine the freedom of gasoline vehicles with the environmental benefits of purely electric cars, but hydrogen fuel cell cars won’t be as cheap to fuel as either.

It might look futuristic, but it will initially cost more than twice as much to run as the Toyota Prius

It might look futuristic, but it will initially cost more than twice as much to run as the Toyota Prius

That’s the frank admittance of Toyota’s senior vice president Bob Carter, who told those at the JP Morgan Auto Conference in New York yesterday that the cost of filling up Toyota’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car would initially be more than paying for a tank of gasoline.

Do some simple math, and it works out that the cost of driving Toyota’s $70,000 fuel cell sedan will be twice that paid by someone driving one of Toyota’s other eco-marketed cars: the classic Prius hybrid.

Quoting estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy, Carter said that Toyota’s 2016 Fuel Cell Sedan — which is rumored to go on sale in the U.S. next summer as the Toyota Mirai — will cost around $50 to fill from empty.

From that, expect a range of around 300 miles.

Using current Californian energy prices of around $4 per gallon and the average fuel economy of new cars sold in the U.S. last month, the same 300 miles of driving would cost you $47 in gasoline.

Look at the cost in a brand-new Toyota Prius with an EPA-approved 50 MPG fuel economy, and you’ll pay just $24. At peak electricity prices, the same amount of driving in a Tesla Model S would cost $11.

In Japan, Toyota has garnered some hefty incentives from the Japanese government for FCV buyers. Incentives in the U.S. and Europe are yet to be announced.

In Japan, Toyota has garnered some hefty incentives from the Japanese government for FCV buyers. Incentives in the U.S. and Europe are yet to be announced.

As part of its plans to encourage Americans to make the switch to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Toyota says  it plans to eventually build enough refuelling stations across the state of California to ensure that the majority of fuel cell customers are no more than six minutes away from a filling station. To that end, it has already invested $7.2 million in a joint project with First Element Fuels and Linde LLC to start construction of hydrogen filling stations across the state.

Like its home market of Japan however, this latest revelation about the cost of filling a hydrogen fuel cell car isn’t exactly great news for Toyota’s dream of the future.

Although Carter says the price of filling Toyota’s FCV will ultimately drop to around $30 per fill as economies of scale come into play, the cost of fuelling won’t be much less than fuelling a conventional car.

One solution of course is to follow Hyundai’s lead, which currently underwrites each and every refill of its limited-production Tucson FCV ‘compliance car’ across the state of California.

Toyota's first Fuel Cell Sedan will cost an estimated $70,000 -- and cost $50 to fill up for 300 miles of driving.

Toyota’s first Fuel Cell Sedan will cost an estimated $70,000 — and cost $50 to fill up for 300 miles of driving.

At an expected retail price of more than $70,000 before incentives however, Toyota will have to do more than offer free fuel to make its first mass-produced FCV car appealing to buyers.

In fact, unless it convinces the Federal government or the state of California to copy the Japanese government and offer large financial incentives for those willing to buy a fuel cell car, Toyota’s first hydrogen vehicle won’t herald the utopian future its supporters hope.

Instead, it threatens to become a car that only the extremely wealthy can afford, further expanding the rift between rich and poor in the green car marketplace.

Would you pay $50 to fill up with hydrogen? Do you know anyone who would? And how much do you think refuelling should cost?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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