Fuel Cell Cars

Following hydrogen facility explosion, fuel-cell vehicle owners left stranded

The explosion happened in June, but some owners have been forced to park their cars due to lack of fuel.

It's hard to go anywhere if there's no hydrogen to top off the tank.

Hyundai

An explosion at a hydrogen fuel production facility shows the industry has a long way to go before fuel cell-powered vehicles can truly be considered a reliable alternative to the internal-combustion engine.

Green Car Reports reported Thursday that hundreds of fuel-cell vehicle owners had no choice but to park their cars due to a hydrogen fuel shortage. The explosion, which happened in Santa Clara, California, this past June, effectively choked the supply of hydrogen to fueling stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The stations have been dry ever since.

Per interviews with owners, the website said Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have provided rental vehicles to some customers while the hydrogen supply comes back online. One named owner, Vivian Knits, said she had no choice but to trade her Toyota Mirai in early for a Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Paying for "luxury car insurance" became too much for a car that sat parked, per Knit's comments.

Toyota told the website it was not involved in a buyback for the Mirai and said whatever deal Knits worked out was likely between her and a local dealership. Although she said goodbye to the fuel cell-powered car, Knits added she loved the vehicle, but the hunt for fuel became a chore.

In an additional statement to Roadshow, Toyota said, "We sincerely regret any inconvenience our Mirai customers may experience, and we are working with them to help identify alternative fueling options if needed. We are also engaging with Mirai owners directly on a case-by-case basis to address their concerns.  Despite these short-term challenges, we remain committed to working with stakeholders to expand California's hydrogen refueling infrastructure and to continuing our investment in the future of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle technology."

Honda told Roadshow in a statement the company is aware of the supply and delivery issues and is in communication with Air Products, which operates the production facility. "They have not yet provided a specific date for resolution, but we will provide updates to Clarity Fuel Cell customers as they become available," a Honda representative added.

Honda further stated that it encourages any impacted Clarity Fuel Cell lessee to utilize the free luxury car rental program offered to each driver if they are unable to refuel their car during this shortage.

The Santa Clara Fire Department reached out to Roadshow to clarify Air Products is not awaiting final inspection from the fire department. Updated information beyond the fire department's clarification was not immediately available as to when supply will return to normal.

Hydrogen fuel infrastructure remains in its infancy, even more so than electric-car charging infrastructure. The vast majority of stations are in California, to serve the few production fuel-cell vehicles on sale today. While topping off with hydrogen is far quicker than waiting for an electric car to charge, it's clear there are many additional hurdles to clear before fuel-cell vehicles are ready for prime time.

Hyundai did not comment on the matter but directed Roadshow to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

Originally published Sept. 6, 7:48 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:13 a.m.: Adds comment from Honda.

Update, Sept. 7: Adds comment from Toyota, removes Air Products statement per information from Santa Clara Fire Department.

Now playing: Watch this: On the road: Toyota Mirai
9:29

More about 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Sedan