The First 30 Days with My Toyota Mirai
Ask any owner of a Mirai, Nexo, and Honda’s fuel cell Clarity if she or he likes her FCEV, and 99% of the time the answer is a yes. The vehicles use hydrogen fuel cell stacks so the refuel time is about five minutes and FCEVs are zero emission vehicles (ZEV), which are both major bonuses. It also helps that the manufacturers pack a lot of high-end features into each of the vehicles whether it is large LCD displays or powerful speaker systems. However, after spending one month driving my FCEV here are a few salient lessons I learned.
Fuel pumps can be a bit gammy. This one actually has three of points, the first of which is that the fuel pumps can be moody. Every so often, for inexplicable reasons, a hydrogen fuel station will allow me to fill up 90-95% of the way, and then will not let me fill up beyond that point even if I try to start the fueling process from the beginning. It is as if I unwittingly offended the fuel pump just by driving up to it and telling it to do its job. Thankfully with 90% of the capacity filled it is not a major issue, but moody fuel pumps are definitely something to watch out for.
Hydrogen fuel pumps do not always work. On one trip I accidentally passed up a station that I had used the day before in San Ramon, California, and I decided to try filling up at a station in Concord, California. No big deal, I thought to myself as I kept on cruising along on the highway. Wrong! I pulled up to the station in Concord, California and at first was delighted to see a per-kilogram price around .50 since most stations are around .50. However, after several unsuccessful tries I had to give up and face an unhappy choice: Go back to San Ramon, or continue on for another 160 miles and hope that I would have better luck at the next station. I went with the latter option only because driving back through a metropolitan area was scarier than driving another 160 miles. Thankfully the next station was working and I was able to fill-up without issue. But it was not the happiest 160 miles I have ever driven.
Another interesting hydrogen fuel station issue is learning that there are local customs that must be observed before a pump will work. In Citrus Heights, California the station there has one POS terminal that often does not work, but it has a second POS terminal that will frequently work as long as a person knows how to finesse the terminal. It is akin to the way getting a lot of lives worked when playing Contra on a SNES (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start). For the Citrus Heights station, a person has to insert a credit/debit card and wait for the first decline. Then a person has to repeat the process to get the second decline (hang in there!). Finally, a person inserts a card a third time and the pump gives-in and sends the command to the fuel pump to start working. Really annoying? You bet. However, given the limited fueling options in the Sacramento, California, dealing with an annoying situation is better than running out of hydrogen.
This may be an issue limited to the Mirai, or maybe all FCEVs have this quark, but the milage range indicator generally gives a higher driving range number the more times a person fills up during the first month. When I first bought my Mirai and filled up the tank the range indicator rated my Mirai for a driving distance of about 300 miles. Several fill-ups later the range display went up to 330 miles. By the end of the month the distance had increased to 362 miles. There are technical reasons that may explain this change, but it is a little disconcerting to feel like I was swindled of the 402-mile driving range that Mirai XLEs are rated for.
Cold things tend to stick together. Once in a while after filling up at a fuel station the nozzle will become frozen to the hydrogen inlet port on the vehicle. The hydrogen that is pumped into FCEVs at the fuel station hovers around -40 degrees, which can cause moisture in the air to freeze to the inlet port. Thankfully the issue happens about 1% of the time, but it is always an interesting experience when a person has to arm wrestle a hydrogen dispensing nozzle lose. (Thankfully I have yet to see an FCEV owner put his or her tongue to the inlet port after filling up to see just how cold the metal really is.)
However, even the oddity of a hydrogen fuel pump not giving a 100% fill-up is far less vexing than when a gasoline pump over-fills a fuel tank and causes gasoline to spill onto the outside of the vehicle and onto the ground. Not only does that create an environmental hazard, it also means a person gets charged for gasoline she or he will never be able to use.
Despite the various above issues with driving a FCEV, from a mobility standpoint, nothing comes close to the sheer joy that comes from the FCEV ownership experience. Not having to ever worry about an oil change or a smog check is quite satisfying as is being able to zip about and produce only water vapor for the vehicle emission! Driving through a forest and only hearing the air as it rushes by the car is always a rather zen-like experience. And, of course, refueling in five minutes while watching BEV owners impatiently watch their vehicles recharge on their smartphone apps is also highly satisfying. Even with the bumps in the first month I am looking forward to spending many more hours driving my new Mirai.