Ask any early adopting electric car owner what the early days of owning a plug-in car was like, and they’ll admit things weren’t easy to begin with. Away from home, what public charging station infrastructure that existed was unreliable, plagued by problems and faults that made electric car ownership — until at least three years ago — something of a challenge.
Even when there was nowhere to charge in public however, there was always the backup plan: a lowly domestic outlet. Even if it took a while, there was always a way to refuel. And when you returned home every night, there was always a place to refuel before your next big journey.
For the 57 or so early-adopting Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan customers who took delivery of their cars in October and November this year, refuelling at home isn’t an option. While it’s technically possible to take natural gas and reform it into hydrogen — or electrolyse water to produce hydrogen — on the kind of scales needed for single-vehicle use, there isn’t yet a domestic-grade hydrogen filling station you can buy.
Which means anyone with a hydrogen fuel cell car and a spot of range anxiety has but one choice: find a nearby hydrogen filling station. Yet as our friends at GreenCarReports note, there are currently only four working hydrogen filling stations in the entire state of California that are capable of fuelling the Toyota Mirai, despite ambitious state plans to build enough hydrogen filling stations to make it easy traverse the state in a zero tailpipe emission hydrogen fuel cell car.
With the state of California’s plans to build a hydrogen highway severely behind schedule, Toyota has been forced to take matters into its own hands, installing temporary portable hydrogen fueler trailers at six of the eight dealerships where the Toyota Mirai is sold.
The solution, reiterates Toyota spokesperson Craig Scott, is a temporary one. By the middle of 2016 he predicts, enough commercial refuelling stations will be open in California that the temporary units will no-longer be needed.
“[We’re] keeping our fingers crossed that it will be sooner rather than later,” he told GreenCarReports.
In keeping with its promise of free fuel for Toyota Mirai customers, Toyota is footing the bill for the Air Products HF-150 Mobile Hydrogen Fueler Trailers. It’s also footing the bill every time the fuelling trailers need replenishing, a process which requires the empty trailers to be trailered back to Toyota’s facility in Carson, California, filled up with hydrogen, and then towed back to the dealerships.
The process, says Scott, will take a few hours for those dealerships located in Southern California, but for those in Northern California, the entire process could take a full day. In a worse-case scenario, that could mean owners in Northern California find that the fuelling trailer is either empty when they arrive, or be a day away from returning with fresh fuel on board.
If that sounds problematic enough, there’s another setback to these particular temporary mobile fuelling trailers: the maximum pressure they can operate at. Capable of storing just under 150 kilograms of hydrogen at 6,600 psi, the fuelling trailers can’t actually pressurise the filling system of the Toyota Mirai enough to give cars a full 5kg of fuel at 10,000 psi.
Instead, they will only be capable of refuelling customers’ cars to around half-full, meaning customers will have to visit their dealership for a top-up every 150 miles.
In a part of California where someone’s work commute can be anything up to 40 miles one way, that means Mirai customers could very well find themselves stopping off at the dealership every day just to make sure they have the range they need to get to and from work without hassle.
Like some early CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations, customers won’t be allowed to fill their own cars at dealer lots, either, meaning customers will have to wait for a trailed dealership technician to do the work for them.
As for the public filling station rollout? While there are six additional filling stations in operation in California alongside the four mentioned above, they are incompatible with the Toyota Mirai’s high-pressure fuel tanks and will thus require upgrading in order to fill the $58,600 fuel cell sedan.
For now then, unless you happen to live near the filling stations in Diamond Bar, West Sacramento, West Los Angeles, or UC-Irvine — the only four hydrogen filling stations currently compatible with the Mirai in operation — driving Toyota’s cutting edge hydrogen fuel cell sedan will mean living with a range that’s only marginally better than that offered by a 2016 Nissan LEAF SL.
For a car that’s supposed to be far more convenient to own than an electric car, owning a Toyota Mirai right now could be very frustrating indeed.
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