Coping: With Hydrogen Cars

Yep, they are here, but only on a very limited basis.

Turn out, though, one of my colleagues out in San Ramon, California not only bought one but after seeing how cool they were (which I’ll explain in a sec) decided that not only would he buy one for his wife, but for himself as well.

Let’s roll back to the beginning:  They were just involved in the Volkswagen diesel buy-back.  What happened was they had purchased a 2011 Jetta TDI – and with about 100,000 miles on it, they were in love with the car.  Until the regulatory nightmares began.

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Essentially, they had purchased the Jetta TDI (in 2011) for $23,500.  But due to the class-action and such, they received a check from Volkswagen for $18,000 about the same time they got the bad news from Sacramentia:  Essentially, California said they would no longer register the car because of the emissions fraud by VW,

To there, in the hills of San Ramon, sat my colleague:  Gone were the “good old days of the Jetta” – a car which would go 600 miles between fill-ups on diesel.

Then came a warning light on the dash:  At 100,000 miles, apparently there’s the diesel’s version of a catalytic converter that needed to be changed, as well.  And that would set them back $4,500 in the event they decided to keep the in-registerable car.

Frantic shopping ensued.

Eventually they found a promising candidate:  The limited production test market of the Toyota Mirai.  It’s powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The local Toyota shop wasn’t part of the demonstration, though, to off to another Bay Area town to take the test drive.

My colleague’s wife is not a reckless driver, but she ain’t now slouch on the onramps.  After having the salesman (looking a bit peaked) remind here “Ma’am, you are responsible for any tickets or accidents on this test drive…” she got off it a bit and slowed to 90.

Turns out the zero to sixty time was a shade under 7 seconds, which is plenty quick – and about what our old (long-ago) Porsche 944 (normal-breather) would do.

My colleague took the wheel next.  To say he was blown away is something of an understatement.  Plus, being a genius in things like PCB manufacturing, CNC equipment, and robotics, there was a certain geek factor to the car that appealed to him no end.

For one, the fuel cell is loaded by means of a 10,000 PSI pressurized line.  And while there are perhaps 20 fill-up stations in the Los Angeles metro, up in the East Bay there was only one that was anywhere near convenient.

Then he ran me through the NUMBERS – which around here is how we sort the BS from the wheat.

Cost of Jetta:   $23,500.

Buy-back:        $18,000

6-year cost:      $5,500.

100K per mile?  5-1/2 cents per mile.

Now to the Toyota Mirai deal:

MSRP:  Somewhere over $60,000.  But they couldn’t buy it.  It was only available as a lease.

So the lease deal?  $5,000 down and $390 per month for three years.

Sound sucky?  Wait till you read the sweeteners:

Since California spends on the darnedest things, they received a check (from the state) for the full $5,000 lease down-stroke.  Zero Emissions since the hydrogen fuel cell blows water out the back.

Then they were handed a Hydrogen card:  Good for $15,000 worth of hydrogen which at current prices is like 50,000 miles free of fuel prices.

My friend was concerned about the lack of hydrogen stations – so the Toyota folks tossed in 21-days of a “luxury class” Toyota (ICE – internal combustion engine- powered) car with no mileage fees so they could take a week of vacation driving per year outside their local area around the hydrogen pumps.

Their first real trip, a week or so back, was from the San Ramon (East Bay) area up to Reno, via Truckee California which happens to be one of the few hydrogen stations around.

My colleague’s wife was sweating bullets on the way in:  GSP was saying 56-miles to the pumps while the range read-out said “46-miles remaining.”

Flipping into super Eco-Mode, and going into the regen brakes a bit more, they made it – barely.

Even if they hadn’t, though, my friend say “Wouldn’t have been a big deal.  On the roof of the vehicle (inside) there is a big button just behind the sun roof that says SOS on it.  When you press that, the car satphones in to Toyota’s program office and they will send out a flat-bed car hauler and take you and passengers to the nearest hydrogen filling station.  No charge, too – which is pretty amazing…”

My colleague immediately bought one for his wife – and another for himself.

Honestly, the 300 mile range is a deal-killer for us, and we hate any kind of ongoing payments, but it is an interesting first-hand report worth sharing.

There are a couple of reasons I like hydrogen:  Its by-product is water being one of them.  The other is that performance – given the right sizing on the fuel cell, which Toyota seems to have nailed, means a good mix of eco and go-go.

While it’s not something you can get into in every market, at least there’s some evidence that innovation is nibbling around the edges of the auto industry as the NEXTCAR is being decided by a combination of consumer experience on the one hand, and brutal economics of the modern financial and petroleum markets on the other.

Hydrogen isn’t perfect, but neither is any other fuel.

Sadly, we don’t live in a world where we actually do the right thing — figure out end-to-end economics and then market what’s best. Instead we come up with all kinds of hare-brained ideas and figure out which one will net us the greatest personal profit.

Odd planet to live on, but so it goes.

Long night being up on Coast last night, so a short snooze and then back with some market numbers and the jobs data ahead of the open.

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

Comments

Coping: With Hydrogen Cars — 21 Comments

  1. Water vapour is the worst green house gas. Hydrogen cars are the worst thing for the environment.

  2. Well, George, as we say in the fundamentals and technical trading worlds, there are contraindications with the Toyota Mirai, chief among which are the price and the fact that it’s more ugly than Hillary Clinton on a bender (which is most of the time). It has a body that only a Japanese designer on coke could love.

    Having said that, if your friend’s wife should ever find herself husband-less, give her my e-mail address, as she sounds like my kind of woman, heavy on the pedal and devil take the consequences. Of course, you will not want to mention this to Kathy, who routinely drives my RX-7 convertible into redshift.

    Was just talking with a number of my friends and colleagues in your Lone Star State, one of whom tried to convince me to join up with his firm in Bastrop. “Lawyer heaven” he called it, which must be hell on earth for everyone else. He’s visiting us next week. Maybe I’ll buy a totally irresponsible Corvette if I move out there and spew CO all over Texas to come out and visit you. Yee-haw!!!

    Keep up the good fight!

  3. A few years ago I thought it would be cool to show my grandkids just how powerful the sun was.. and proceeded to show them how to make lava. They were excited energetic about the idea and proceeded to vaporized anything and everything. I instantly realized just how bad I messed up and stopped them in their tracks. Now I show them how to cool and freeze things with the power of the sun.
    There’s nothing I enjoy more than my solar powered beer chiller.
    Hydrogen power, magnetic motors, extreme high mileage carburetor, air powered motirs, all of this technology has been here for decades and centuries. But the overall effects it would have on the economic structure we have developed for ourselves would be devastating to say the least.
    For me that one thing was enough of a learning experience that if someone comes and asks I wonder I say look it up instead of let me show you.
    Solar and wind I think that’s a no brainier just that those implimenting it should not make money just be given reassurance that their rates won’t go up fo x years. That would stabilize a utility that I think has been crying for help for decades and strengthen the security of our country

  4. I’ve been dabbling with the idea of a viable hydrogen vehicle since the 1960s — still haven’t come up with one.

    It was my science fair project in high school. It spawned several forks in my college curricula. It was the reason I learned how to use a surface grinder and knew more minutia about photovoltiacs than some of my instructors, by the time I was a sophomore.

    Don’t get me wrong, hydrogen power is an amazing concept, and a thousand automakers and hobbyists could have built a working hydrogen vehicle in 1910. The issue isn’t conceptual, and never has been; the issue is viability.

    Hydrogen is best-considered a “fuel storage medium,” which is a fancy way of saying “battery.” At 100% efficiency, hydrogen yields exactly as much energy as it takes to produce.

    “H2 cars” is exciting, it’s kitschy, and it appeals to the geek in all of us, but it is not an answer, because a hydrogen vehicle suffers the mechanical weaknesses of any other vehicle, while requiring a considerably greater overhead than CNG and a higher grid-demand than EVs. They are “a useful alternative” (as long as Toyota/MB/Ford and the EPA subsidize them) if one commutes into the L.A. (or another smog-collecting) basin, and useless (and expensive) elsewhere.

    That said, Toyota will sell (lease) a boatload of these critters to the superficial, supercilious idiots (mostly on the left coast), who believe other people’s perception of them is their actual reality, and to a bunch of people like George’s friend, who are seeking a reasonable alternative to their CAFE/EcoDiesel issue, and don’t want to drive a Prius or Kia-H.

  5. Hydrogen Fuel Cells cars were to be the next best thing for transportation … about the year 2000.

    Ballard had a lot of the technology tied up with patents so Ford and Mercedes jointly ponied up several BILLION Dollars EACH to get the technology up to snuff for a production vehicle. GM was running a separate program, but spending just as much.

    Alas … problems cropped up all over the place apparently mostly dealing with the fuel cell membranes losing efficiency as they got clogged with contaminants from the fuel. I guess it didn’t take much to contaminate the fuel and if there was anything in it at all the fuel cell membranes would clog up fairly quickly.

    fwiw around our city the Bus system actually got a couple of test GM fuel cell city busses to run as GM played around with putting them on commercial vehicles. I never got to ride on them but everybody I talked to who did said it was a normal bus ride … just with no noise from the engine. They only ran those for a few months before GM took them back.

    ONCE they can get the technology working right think of the light change in technology that will occur – much like when railroads went from very complex steam engines to much more simple diesel-electric engines. Working moving parts with a fuel cell? Practically NIL! That Rube Goldberg thing with hundreds of moving parts called an internal combustion engine … GONE! Auto Mechanics? Most of them who work on the engines and transmissions will be gone too (since electric motors are in each wheel there will be no “transmission” so to speak).

    Fuel efficiency is amazing with fuel cell generators – even early generation ones … over double what is available with an internal combustion engine. (they also were testing a suburban neighborhood fuel cell power plant here … no noise or pollution at it’s neighborhood tree lined street location)

    I have been patiently waiting for fuel cells to finally WORK … but alas it has been a slow long process. Hopefully before I die they will finally come into their own.

  6. I seem to recall that 95% of the existing cars that run on gasoline can be converted to hydrogen. My father had a pickup he converted to propane 60 yrs ago. That is a similar conversion. Minimal cost less loss of the energy.

  7. It takes a lot of electricity to split hydrogen out of water. Less so to produce it from methane, but why would you waste a perfectly good fuel? You still end up with CO2. (One could argue that unless you are using non-fossil fuels to make the electricity, hydrogen vehicles are not zero emission, but rather just move the emissions “over there,” but I digress.) It takes more power to compress and transport it. There is a further loss burning it to produce electricity for the FCEV and/or battery.

    I don’t know the relative efficiency of the various fuels throughout the cycle “to the wheels,” but I do know that H gets several conversions along the way, and each conversion = loss of efficiency.

    • Funny part about this is during WW2 there was a unit produced in the USA that worked as a hybrid.. it split water in a dry cell and vaporized in a fog a blend of water and alcohol. It worked pretty good.. that techology was pretty much shelved with cheap oil then in 78 a gentleman drove across the USA on ten gallons of gas. The way I understood how it worked was the fuel rather than being sprayed in the carburetor was being vaporized. The exhaust was partially directed through a bubbler system in the fuel tank and the fumes injected into the carburetor.
      The whole event was followed with daily updates on msm.
      From what I have heard but am not sure if it’s just spin or not.. that directly after leaving the floor of Congress on national television he was arrested and the car confiscated.. interesting enough the pattent he had is now a pattent for the us military and Honda motors.
      The technology and ability is here has been for decades.. Tesla many of his pattent are now just coming to light. The problem is how do you market it. How do you control it. You cannot have free energy. Tesla’s peirce arrow or getting free electricity.
      Think of the overall effect it would have on the economy. Water the most abundant source or any carbon can be converted to hydrogen gas. But if you had a system to convert rainwater salt water.. a few years ago a man fighting cancer had the idea of low level microwave bursts and nano particles mixed with a treatable virus would adhear to cancer and by heating it a degree or two would kill the cancer..they are testing this now. The other thing that was discovered was it converted water to a burnable fuel. This was broadcasted on msm evening news and sixty minutes.
      You just can’t allow that kind of technology known.. build one for yourself but you can’t sell it market it it would shut down the oil barons. Then what use would we have for wars.
      That is one reason why the big power companies have been trying to discredit solar and wind.
      Like George has always said it’s a business model.

    • Oil, natgas or coal are used to make hydrogen – that should be all anyone needs to realize that this is just more hypercomplex crap. As if we are going to build out an entire fuel system for this gas – which requires either UHP tank or refrigerated tank.There is also a very good reason the Hindenberg went down in flames and then blimps switched to helium…and just because you have lots of safety gizmoes doesn’t make H2 any less explosive.

      We had 1/4 of a national LPG fueling system in place – but the republicans nixed that.

      And yes Jon – thousands of charging stations eh? Where exactly is that? Because my neighbor has to drive 45 miles downtown to charge his here in Houston, or else wait his requisite 12 hrs overnight.

      As I have told you many times – it may work in a city, but not across a state, especially Texas – just too big for 200 miles to play out effectively. Maybe metro area to metro area with a mandatory charging stop in the middle both ways. Not too sexy…

      • That’s why the money supply system is changing and it’s going very rapidly here so if everything changes in the right direction new technology will be new every week

      • If the reverse happens nothing will change except you’ll still have gasoline for cars and diesel for trucks another words we will not have moved ahead at all and we still got all of those Fukushima radiation coming out us and all those hundreds of nuclear plants with hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear waste so yeah hopefully some something new will happen

  8. So the 6 year cost was $5,500? Did they do any maintenance, brakes, tires, O&F changes,anything? I always factor in all costs to operate a car to get to true numbers. There is no way, no matter how sweet the deal, that we, the above average in intelligence, below average in earnings would ever convince ourselves to buy that car. My last two very nice used cars in the last 4 years were purchased for $3,000 and then $3,800. I got 100 percent of the first cars costs back after driving it for 3 years, and am just into the 2nd one. The car before these 2, bought and put a cumulative total of $3,700 in it and that included 2 sets of Michelin steel belted radials that went to 60+k miles each set, sold it 7 1/2 years later to a friend for $1,200 (a deal) and had put 165,000 miles on it, it had 238,000 on it when we sold it. It never needed a brake job, I am a good driver, stick shift. That’s how we roll, frugal, safe, and no car payments. If new tech high priced cars are the way of the future, the prices have got to come down or the wages have got to go up. No, I am not interested in giving up my car. I’ll take Bryce’s advice and buy a CT 90 and get 90 mpg.