At the end of last year, the U.S. federal government decided not to renew the $8,000 federal tax credit for those purchasing hydrogen vehicles. Despite being offered for several years, that particular tax credit — unlike the far more popular federal tax credit for all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles — had only been useful to a handful of buyers since to date, the only hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ‘on sale’ have been small lease-only test-fleets of hydrogen fuel cell cars in the state of California.
Yet with an MSRP of $57,500 before incentives the 2016 Toyota Mirai fuel cell sedan was priced by Toyota with an expectation that those now-expired $8,000 of federal tax incentives would be renewed, lowering its sticker price in pro-hydrogen fuel cell states like California to $44,500 after state and federal incentives. Fuel included.
More importantly for Toyota, it would have put the Mirai at a price point well below that of the entry-level Tesla Model S 60 electric car, a car made by its former electric car partner and now arch nemesis Tesla Motors.
Yet as our friends at Autobloggreen explain, Toyota seems to be pushing on with its sales pitch for the Mirai as if the federal tax credits for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were still in place, promising that the futuristic four-seat car will be available for under $50,000 when it goes on sale in California later this year.
To ensure that happens, Toyota executives are aggressively pointing out the unfairness of offering an incentive for plug-in cars but not for fuel cell vehicles while presumably working extremely hard to lobby the U.S. government to restart the now-expired tax credits.
Having successfully lobbied the Japanese government to offer more than $20,000 in incentives to each and every new domestic Mirai customer, Toyota seems optimistic it can arrange similarly large incentives in Europe and the U.S.
“We think that the federal credit expiration last year puts [hydrogen] customers in a fairly disadvantageous postion,” said Nihar Patel, vice president of North American Business Strategy for Toyota at the recent 2015 Washington Auto Show. “We believe that this inequity needs to be fixed.”
His colleague Robert Wimmer, Toyota’s director of Energy and Environmental Research, Technical and Regulatory Affairs, agrees. “[The Mirai] being a ZEV and battery electrics also being ZEVs, we just want to make the playing field as level as possible.”
Curiously, no-one has pointed out that while both incentives were operating, the playing field wasn’t quite as even as it might have been: fully-electric cars attracted a $7,500 federal tax credit, while hydrogen fuel cell vehicles attracted $8,000 in federal tax credits.
It’s unclear if this inequality would be addressed if or when hydrogen vehicle federal tax credits were to be reintroduced.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that Toyota is the only automaker working its lobbyists hard in Washington D.C. to ensure that federal tax credits are reinstated for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles before the end of the year. As well as Toyota, fellow Japanese automaker Honda plans to introduce its own hydrogen fuel cell sedan later this year, while South Korean rival Hyundai is already leasing its Tucson FCV SUV to customers in California.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen hydrogen demonstration vehicles from Audi and its parent company Volkswagen in recent months, and BMW is rumoured to be working on its own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle for launch some time in the near future.
The question now is this: will Capitol Hill bow to the desires of hydrogen fuel cell supporters, or leave the door closed for this fledgling, expensive technology? And more importantly, if it does, what will that mean for Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and the as yet woefully underdeveloped hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in the U.S.?
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