Japanese automaker Toyota may be trying to slow down the rate of 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell deliveries in parts of California due to a lack of usable hydrogen filling stations where customers can refill their cars, but rival firm Hyundai says it’s just about to increase the number of deliveries of its 2016 Tucson hydrogen fuel cell SUV.
Talking to members of the press last week at the Washington Auto Show, the South Korean automaker said that while the limited-production hydrogen fuel cell SUV is currently only available for customers to lease in the Los Angeles area, it will soon start deliveries in the San Francisco Bay area as more hydrogen filling stations open up.
“We will sell them where there’s fuel,” said Hyundai’s Mike O’Brian. While the number of hydrogen filling stations in Northern California is still fairly low, he explained, several brand-new filling stations are due to open in the coming few weeks. And that means for the first time owning and operating a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the San Francisco Bay area will become practical.
While Hyundai says the move is driven by a better hydrogen filling station availability, we’d like to point out that there’s probably another reason behind the plan to begin deliveries in the northern part of the Golden State: competition.
Toyota has found itself struggling somewhat when it comes to finding reliable hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for its early-adopting Mirai customers, so only a total of eight dealerships in California — four around Los Angeles and four around San Francisco — sell the limited-production sedan. At $499 for a 36-month lease, the Toyota Mirai also happens to cost the same as the Hyundai Tucson and its San Francisco availability means that it has a head start on the zero-emission SUV in the NorCal marketplace.
While it might have a head start on Hyundai in the San Francisco Bay area however, the Toyota Mirai FCV only seats four — and its design is far from conventional. The Hyundai Tucson FCV meanwhile looks just like any other Tucson on the road today. It seats one more person, and is of course in the highly-popular crossover SUV form factor.
Put bluntly, with a vehicle that’s likely to appeal to far more buyers than the Mirai FCV, Hyundai would be a fool not to expand its availability into the San Francisco Bay area. With Honda expected to launch its five-seat Clarity FCV later this year in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, Hyundai’s plan makes even more sense.
Like the Mirai and the Tucson FCV, the Honda Clarity will also initially lease for $499.
Hyundai seems content with the number of hydrogen filling stations expected to go online in the coming months, even if 23 of the 53 total stations have not yet even broken ground. But unless it is willing to follow Toyota’s lead and provide customers with alternative ways to refuel their cars, expanding market availability before a robust refuelling infrastructure is in place could cause more headaches than it solves.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which of the three $499 lease deals customers choose: unless the infrastructure is ready, each company will find itself faced with frustrated, disenfranchised customers.
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