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Fuel Cell Vehicles Are Not A Big Deal

April 26th, 2021

I keep hearing about the Toyota Mirai. I've even seen one on the road, and today I did a little research I'd like to share. For those who don't know, it's a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell providing energy to an electric motor. You don't plug it in to charge batteries, you visit a hydrogen fuel station and fill it up with compressed hydrogen in a similar way that you fill up a normal car with gasoline.

The only emissions from a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle are heat and water. That sounds great, right? Boy does it, but there's one problem. We simply are not there yet. 6600 Mirai owners in the United States disagree, though. It's true that you can go into a Toyota dealership and order a Mirai for yourself. So, let's take a look at the kind of life you'd have to live by being a pioneer of the fuel cell automobile in the US.

The way I see it, it boils down to a few simple criteria.

  1. You live in Sacramento, San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, or the Los Angeles area.
  2. You exclusively travel by car between these places and Reno, Nevada assuming, of course, you don't do a lot of driving in Reno because the nearest hydrogen station is 32 miles away in Truckee.
  3. You do not expect to be helped by roadside assistance if you run out of fuel because none of them know what a hydrogen fuel cell is, let alone how to get a tank, where to fill it, or how to put the fuel into your car once they get there.

These are based on station locations from US Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, specifically their station locations map.

If you meet these three simple criteria, congratulations! A fuel cell car is just right for you! That'll be 50 grand, please. Seriously. You have to be committed, and I mean committed to drive a fuel cell car in 2021. More committed than you had to be when electric cars were in their infancy. At least with electric cars you can charge them at your house. It might have taken a day and a half to charge but if you didn't drive very frequently or very far, it was an option.

It's an emerging technology, I get it. Fuel cell might be the future. I don't know, I'm not a fortune teller. I just don't understand why I hear about it so much. We aren't there yet. It's not practical. Hell, the Mirai is most popular fuel cell vehicle around and it only sold about 10,000 units by December 2019, the fifth year of production.

The only thing it has going for it is a stylish appearance compared to Toyota's new lineup of gut-wrenching abominations of automobile design. Look at the new Sienna and try not to hurl. What the hell is that body line comprising the rear fender? It looks like a cheap widebody kit. On top of that, they've managed to make the regular Prius look sillier than the Prius Prime. I thought the whole idea of the Prius Prime was to be the sillier version of the Prius. I think they're just eating into their market there.

Maybe the whole reason I wrote this was to express my distaste in the 2021 Toyota lineup, but I think I'll go ahead and stop here. See you in two months.

Oh no, last time I ended a blog post like that it ended up coming true. I guess we'll see.

Update 2021-05-09: I've seen at least two more Mirais in the wild since writing this and I still don't get it.