James May, a leading auto journalist and former Top Gear host, is getting rid of his favourite car, a hydrogen fuel cell Toyota Mirai.
But despite previously describing his Mirai as “very sophisticated”, his “nicest car”, and even comparing it to a Bentley, the ex-Top Gear host is ditching the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) because one factor makes it unpleasant to own.
“In many ways I think is the nicest car I’ve ever owned, although not the most exciting, let’s be very clear about that,” he says, noting it delivers a modest 152kW of power from its single motor which compared to his dual motor Tesla Model S is pretty tame, to say the least.
But this is not why he is selling it. The Mirai has to go because, May says, in the UK there simply aren’t enough hydrogen fuel cell stations.
“When I first had this car there were eight hydrogen stations in the whole of the UK and I mean the whole of the UK, even including the bits that would rather they weren’t part of the UK like Scotland and Wales and South Yorkshire,” he said in a DriveTribe video published on Sunday.
“And even today there are only 11 hydrogen stations, making it very difficult to use this as your only everyday car.”
FCEVs are touted as a great zero-emissions alternative to fossil-fuelled cars because refuelling experience is similar, and even over and even battery electric vehicles (BEVs), because they can be refuelled in just a few minutes.
And as the most abundant element in the universe hydrogen is definitely plentiful. But as it is rarely freely available, it must first be extracted from water or fossil fuels such as methane, and compressed before it is able to be transported for use.
While “green” hydrogen can be made from renewable sources there will still be energy lost in the extraction and storage process, and as this article explains, even heating up stones is more energy-efficient than the high-pressure process needed to store hydrogen.
But that’s not the crux of the issue in this case.
As of today, the 11 FCEV stations in the UK compare to more than 30,000 BEV charging stations.
As May notes, owning a Mirai in Germany is simpler, because there are already at least 100 stations across the country, but this has taken a concerted effort by hydrogen mobility companies with billions in funding.
But more than that is the fact that fuel cell stations represent a centralised system that requires a driver to go to a station for refuelling.
Electricity on the other hand is essentially a peer-to-peer system that can be delivered using at-home renewables or from a grid that can be accessed via power outlets in every building.
While hydrogen fuel cell may make sense for long-range and large transport applications like ships, trucks, buses and trains, it does seem a bit easier if the millions of cars that need to be transitioned to reduce transport-related emissions were simply battery electric.
Either way, for May it is also a matter of time.
He’s enjoyed the Toyota Mirai but as he says in the video, “I do believe that cars are a little bit like fashion, you have to move on.”
And apparently, the next purchase will be something a little more exciting. Let’s hope it is also electric.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.