Toyota Mirai's hopes dim as East Coast refueling stations stall

Only 708 units were sold in the first half of the year, all supported by less than 30 refueling stations located throughout California

Toyota's hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan is apparently encountering difficulty expanding beyond the California state line.

The company leased just 708 units at California dealerships in the first half of the year. As Bloomberg points out, the figure represents less than 10 percent of Nissan Leaf sales and an even smaller fraction of Tesla Model S deliveries during the same period.

All hydrogen-powered vehicles face a challenging problem of limited infrastructure in the US. Paltry sales of fuel-cell vehicles discourage energy companies from investing in hydrogen stations, and scant refueling sites discourage auto buyers from looking at fuel-cell vehicles.

Hydrogen refueling stations are relatively expensive to build, requiring much larger investment than charging systems for electric vehicles. As long-range EVs inch closer to mainstream affordability, hydrogen is no longer receiving much interest in terms of private funding or public subsidization.

"We're dealing with government officials and planning boards and everyone's got their own priorities, and sometimes hydrogen refueling stations aren't at the top of their list," said Bob Oesterreich, US director of Air Liquide, Toyota's partner to build more East Coast refueling stations, in a statement to Bloomberg.

The eastern infrastructure plan has now been trimmed from a dozen stations by summer to perhaps four by the end of the year. Even in California the pace of expansion has been slow, with less than 30 refueling stations currently active across the entire state.

Air Liquide's US director of government affairs, Andrew Temple, admits that the Northeast is "really a leap of faith" and the company will likely "take a pretty big hit" if things don't come together. The French industrial-gas supplier is nonetheless continuing construction at sites in Providence and Hartford, with plans to add a dozen more New England stations by the end of next year.

Toyota apparently hopes hydrogen will become more popular alongside the growth of EVs through 2020. A separate report suggests the Japanese automaker is hedging its bets, however, and intends to leapfrog the EV industry with ultra long-range and fast-charging solid-state batteries by 2022.

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