Last spring, when Toyota announced its plans to begin deliveries of the the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan in key California markets by October 2015, it did so with the hope that by the time its limited-production vehicle hit dealer lots there would be enough publicly-accessible hydrogen fueling stations for early-adopters to use to travel about their local area without range anxiety.
Indeed, while the California Energy Commission once predicted it expected more than 50 hydrogen filling stations would be operational within the state by the end of 2015, there are still less than a dozen in operation. What’s more, while there are a handful of older public refuelling stations available in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, these older units are unreliable and not fully-compatible with the Mirai.
As we explained last month, those delays meant that Toyota made the decision to station portable hydrogen fuelling trailers at six out of the eight approved Toyota dealerships in California where the Mirai is sold, just so that customers could find a place to refuel.
Now it seems Toyota has gone one step further, asking some of its Californian dealerships to actively stop deliveries of the $58,600 fuel cell sedan until local public hydrogen fuelling stations have been commissioned.
That’s according to WardsAuto which was told by Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, that Toyota has made the request to alleviate some of the fuelling-related problems being experienced by customers in some of the Northern and Southern California locations where the Mirai is available.
“It’s not a stop-sale,” he said, keen to reiterate that Toyota hasn’t fully halted sales. “We have just asked [some dealers] not to make deliveries until we have a [nearby] station open.”
One such dealership is in Santa Monica, where there is currently no public refuelling station within easy reach of the Toyota’s Mirai-approved dealership. Rather than have customer pick up cars they can’t easily use, Toyota has requested that dealership hold off on further deliveries until the Santa Monica station is operational.
Other dealerships have been told similar things. Indeed, when Toyota chose those eight dealerships to be the first in the union to sell the Mirai, it did so based on each dealership’s proximity to hydrogen filling stations expected to open before October 2015.
Few have opened, leaving dealers with a car they can theoretically sell, but one which customers can’t easily refuel.
As for those trailers that Toyota sent to six out of the eight dealerships? While they are providing some stop-gap provision for those who really are getting caught short, they’re no match for a permanent, fully-commissioned hydrogen fuelling station.
First, the trailers operate at about half the pressure needed to fully fill the Toyota Mirai’s hydrogen fuel tanks. Consequently, this means that customers cars can only be refilled from the trailers to half-full, or 150 miles of range in ideal conditions.
Then there’s operating hours. While commercial hydrogen filling stations operation around the clock, the fuelling trailers located at six of the eight Miari dealerships (two simply did not have the space to host one) are only available when the dealership is open. What’s more, customers have to wait for a technician to refuel their car: they’re not allowed to do it themselves.
Finally, as we explained last month, those trailers are only good for 150 kilograms of hydrogen, meaning they can only provide 60 half-refills before needing to be replenished. When that happens, the trailers have to be towed to Toyota’s own hydrogen filling facility in Carson, California before being towed back to the dealerships.
Interestingly, in deciding which customers to deliver cars to in this period of reduced deliveries, Lentz said that customers who live near an operational hydrogen filling station are being given preference over those who live near a hydrogen filling station. This presumably is to lessen queues during morning and evening rush hours.
Toyota appears more annoyed than worried about the lack of hydrogen filling stations.
“There are fewer stations than we would have preferred right now,” Lentz admits. “I’m pretty confident by the end of the year we’re going to get to 48. It’s just growing pains.”
In the past few years, Toyota, along with fellow Japanese automaker Honda and the state of California has set aside significant amounts of money to help California build a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure. Right now, there’s little to show for it — and Toyota’s dream of building a hydrogen future is little more than a nightmare.
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