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,

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