First H2 Trip Between Los Angeles and San Francisco Conveniently Ignores Tesla Supercharger Network

How easy is it to make a long-distance trip in an electric car? Of course, the answer to that question depends on the electric car you’re driving.

Take a Nissan LEAF for example, and a long-distance trip is only possible if you happen to live in an area with well-placed CHAdeMO infrastructure — like the I-5 through the state of Oregon up to Washington’s border with Canada or the well-supported free-to-use Ecotricity network in the UK.

Hydrogen highway: you can now drive from LA to SF in a hydrogen fuel cell car.

Hydrogen highway: you can now drive from LA to SF in a hydrogen fuel cell car.

As a consequence the limitations of electric vehicle public charging and limited range are often cited by hydrogen fuel cell advocates as being a reason buyers should opt for hydrogen fuel cell technology over electric vehicles. But while their claims are true of more affordable plug-in cars the same can’t be said of a car like the Tesla Model S, a car which can easily travel long-distance thanks to the Supercharging network.

Conveniently too, the Tesla Model S starts at the same kind of price as the various limited-production hydrogen fuel cell cars on sale today, which we think makes it a fair apples-to-apples comparison for any hydrogen fuel cell vehicle when discussing long-distance trips. But earlier this week when Mercedes-Benz released a press release celebrating a trip made by a handful of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back, the only quote from a hydrogen fuel cell owner was one which was certainly not fair to electric vehicles.

The trip took in all the sights you'd expect.

The trip took in all the sights you’d expect.

Last week, five Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles and their owners took three days to travel the round trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Coinciding with the opening of a new public hydrogen filling station in Coalinga, making trips by hydrogen fuel cell vehicle between the two cities possible for the first time, the trip was a celebration of hydrogen fuel cell technology and the simple fact that Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell customers could now venture “beyond Southern California… for the very first time.”

The route — which followed a less-than-direct course from Los Angeles to San Francisco via Burbank, Coalinga, West Sacramento and finally Emeryville, totalled some 475 miles each way, equivalent to around 7.5 hours of driving. Add in a claimed 3.5 minutes for refuelling at each of the hydrogen filling stations along the way and regular restroom and food breaks, and you’re left with an easily-accomplished 12-hour trip.

Naturally, with the addition of the required press-calls en-route, this particular trip took a little longer, with the total round-trip taking a total of three days. As any Tesla Model S owner will tell you, following the same route in a Tesla Model S would result in the same trip taking a similar amount of time, thanks to a choice of six or seven different Supercharger sites along the route.

Enroll in Tesla’s battery swap program (and pay to swap your battery out for a different one at the Harris Ranch in California) and the trip could be made in even less time. As with the B-Class F-Cell trip, anyone determined enough could make the round trip within two days, especially if they have a codriver on-board.

What’s more, that trip has been possible in a Supercharger-enabled Model S since early 2013. Since October 2013, it’s been possible to even drive a Tesla Model S the entire length of the I-5 corridor from Mexico to Canada using just Supercharger stations.

Yet Tesla’s Supercharger network is ignored in Mercedes-Benz’s press release. Instead, owners are quoted as being glad they aren’t restricted by limited range and refuelling opportunities.

“I don’t want a car that only takes me to work and back before I have to plug it in,” said Early F-Cell adopter Loki Efaw who has been driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle since 2011. “I want a car that I can drive and drive. And the refuelling only takes a few minutes. That’s how it should be and that’s why a successive build up of hydrogen stations is absolutely necessary.”

The trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles is easy with a Model S (Photo: G.Parrott, via. GCR)

The trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles is easy with a Model S (Photo: G.Parrott, via. GCR)

While we’re glad to see that hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is now in place to enable hydrogen fuel cell trips between Los Angeles and California and a total of 40 public refuelling stations are due to join the existing ten in the region next year, we think it’s a little disingenuous to compare expensive hydrogen fuel cell cars — and even more expensive refuelling stations — to regular, limited-range electric cars.

Here at Transport Evolved, we think there’s no silver bullet when it comes to finding a transportation solution which works for everyone. As such, we’re happy to see both electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology develop side by side, and welcome any technology which helps lower the overall carbon footprint and vehicular emissions of our roads today.

But unless both sides can play fair, it’s going to be a tough journey for both electric and hydrogen advocates.

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