Toyota’s Hydrogen Future Under Threat With The Closing Of Fuelling Stations In The U.S. - SUV VEHICLE

Toyota’s Hydrogen Future Under Threat With The Closing Of Fuelling Stations In The U.S.

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Toyota has been testing, teasing, and investing in hydrogen for quite some time. With the Mirai model, you saw the first mass-scale hydrogen vehicle from Toyota, and this marked a new dawn for the broader market. We all know EVs and PHEVs are the rage right now. Fine. But Toyota decided to push the barrier even further, and has seen recent pushback from its customers.




The Mirai sedan promised a future beyond your wildest dreams, only to become a harsh, lackluster reality for most of its owners. That is never a good thing in the PR department, hydrogen or not, and with lawsuits and buybacks looming, we aren’t sure what the future of hydrogen electric development looks like over at Toyota’s HQ.

With problems reported like frozen hydrogen pumps, plummeting resale values, and skyrocketing fuel charges for Mirai drivers and fans, this has quickly become a MAJOR controversy for the Japanese mega-brand. Of course, no good thing ever came and left silently. We understand that. However, when you turn your once loyal customers against you due to oversight that *could* have been avoided, that leaves very little wiggle room in the blame game department. Whatever the case is, this article will shed light on all of the current and future Mirai outlooks, good, bad, and ugly.


In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Toyota and other authoritative sources, including the EPA and DriveClean.gov.

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Toyota Mirai: Was Hydrogen Too Risky?

With the 2024 Toyota Mirai imminent, there has been quite a fuss regarding previous generations and how Toyota has chosen to handle its hydrogen fleet thus far. Mainly sold in California, the Toyota Mirai features a hydrogen-electric powertrain. Instead of charging with a typical cable, you can refuel at one of the available pumps in Southern California whenever your miles wear out.


However, the Mirai has never been a top seller for Toyota (it tends to fall to the bottom), and the brand has faced endless hurdles with its investments in hydrogen infrastructure at a U.S. and global level. You have to think, if Toyota can’t handle getting the Mirai enough stations for refueling in Southern California, there’s little hope elsewhere. A Northern California refueling station (San Francisco, to be exact) was shut down, leaving drivers in the dust. Literally. There remains one in South San Francisco, the next closest stations are 40 miles one way to Sunnyvale. Not fun.

Although the Mirai continues to be sold throughout the Golden State, there are not enough refueling stations or methods for drivers to easily access. Incoming lawsuits: We’re not shocked there.

400 Miles Isn’t Enough If You Can’t Easily Refuel It

Silver 2023 Toyota Mirai
Toyota


One of the things that we’ll mention that is semi-pro Mirai is that this model boasts 402 miles of hydrogen range, as rated by the EPA. This is impressive, except the kicker is that there aren’t enough hydrogen-fuelling stations, and Toyota hasn’t rolled out its at-home fueling station concept. This is one of the many reasons current buyers and drivers are suing Toyota.

Typically, you’d like to have the choice between a public station or one at home. That’s the deal with regular battery driving, so hydrogen has to follow suit. Until now, Toyota has been unable to roll out any strong selection of public or private fuel station solutions, leading to major distaste from the people who continued to believe in the brand’s eco-friendly vision.

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Frozen Hydrogen Stations, Anyone?

Tri Gen FuelCell Energy Toyota Facility
Toyota


In addition to a lack of general refueling accessibility, recent lawsuits and complaints against Toyota and its hydrogen vision include problems at the few stations people can drive to. A few people have even witnessed the hydrogen pump frozen in another car because of the extremely cool storage temperatures it has to be held at.

For those reading who aren’t super familiar with how hydrogen refueling works, your car works by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell stack. From there, instead of burning the gas, it transforms the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This electricity then powers the car’s electric motors. You have to store hydrogen at around -253°C (negative 423.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid disaster, making this process rather scientific.


Without Public Help, Hydrogen Can’t Grow

One of the main issues causing people to want buybacks and generally be upset with Toyota is the lack of public infrastructure regarding its models. The Mirai is the most popular and common among Toyota’s North American offerings, and with only 59 open retail hydrogen stations in the United States as of the end of 2023, there’s not much selection for drivers in or outside of California. In fact, Shell closed down all of its hydrogen fuelling stations earlier this year, causing even more chaos. More importantly, at a national scale, there are not any hydrogen stations in most states whatsoever. That alone becomes a major issue for Toyota and other manufacturers wanting to dive in.

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Dwindling Hydrogen Stations In California = Bad For Toyota

Shell Hydrogen Station
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock


Adding to the above state-by-state point, California has its own hydrogen station problem. With the Mirai only being sold in that area, you can’t keep a whole region/state happy with under 100 fuel pumps, and even with the ~108 under development, that leaves a lot to be wanted from all sides.

The United States government and the state of California have been adamant about investing in charging stations near and far, except this rush has not come to the hydrogen segment (yet). We have many hydrogen vehicles in the works, from brands like Honda, Toyota, GM, etc. Recent news of gasoline company Shell closing its California hydrogen stations (shocker) also struck a chord with many Mirai drivers, so there seems to be a domino effect at play here.

  • Hydrogen stations currently in California: 55
  • Hydrogen stations under development: 108

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The Future Of Hydrogen Isn’t Dead Yet

Toyota Mirai Motor
Toyota

Even though current threats and calls for buybacks, lawsuits, and general dissatisfaction have Toyota in a grip, that doesn’t mean hydrogen is over forever. The 2024 Mirai is still coming and will be sold to those living and driving in California. Fuel stations, although sparse, are also going to work themselves out in the coming years. Like we struggled to find safe, usable charging stations over a decade ago, this is the current feeling for hydrogen users. Same page, different story.

Toyota has billions of dollars to give to green production costs, and with plans to release at-home hydrogen stations, this can pull them out of the rut. Will it be easy? No. The name Mirai means “future” in Japanese, and this nameplate has always been that for the company. It’s weird right now, but hydrogen will soon become a staple in driving. Mark our words.


Don’t Count Out Toyota’s “Shared Hydrogen Network”

Because we’ve reported on patents being filed for a “Shared Hydrogen Network” via Toyota’s Mirai drivers in the California and United States, there is a glimmer of hope to be considered. This plan essentially lays out the groundwork for at-home hydrogen storage and production stations, which you would need to connect to a water or natural gas source. From there, these tiny stations could produce just enough hydrogen to fill your car and even extra through a shared network of stations. It hasn’t been done before, so Toyota would pioneer this technology. It’s certainly exciting.

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