Life as a Hydronaut in California

A hydronaut in the midst of many gasoline vehicles.
A hydronaut in the midst of many gasoline vehicles, © CHBC

I’m a hydronaut. No, that’s not a term for an underwater astronaut, but a term Honda uses to describe me, as one of their Clarity Fuel Cell electric vehicle (FCEV) drivers on California’s road today. Between three automakers (Honda, Toyota, Hyundai) there are now over 7,000 (Aug 1, 2019) FCEV’s on the road.

Living life as a hydronaut is a unique experience, filled with the jubilation of driving a zero emission car with 300+ mile range AND fast (3 ~ 5 minute) refueling! However, introducing a new transportation fuel also includes an occasional frustration as hydrogen stations are still facing growing pains. Luckily, California is well on its way to the first 100 hydrogen refueling stations, and those 13 in Los Angeles County create even more jubilation. The number of hydronauts is growing every month.

Some folks may have been converted to FCEV’s due to the high penetration marketing campaigns developed by the automakers. Driving down the 405 freeway, which runs north to south in the Los Angeles area, you can see the only place in the world where there is a FCEV billboard competition. On one side of the freeway as it nears Carson, there’s a billboard advertising the Toyota Mirai, displaying a picture of the car sitting on water with the phrase under it: The only emission is water. This definitely does a good job of depicting the car as a clean, green choice for the environment and consumers. Less than a mile away, a Honda billboard boasts “3-5 minute refueling; The All-New Clarity Fuel Cell.” These are the big car company’s attempts to recruit more hydronauts and it seems to be working. While the increase of battery electric car vehicle (BEV) drivers is a bit steeper, each month more drivers in California are saying “yes” to FCEVs.

Marketing strategies, like billboards and radio ads, are one way to get more people to drive FCEVs, but another consideration are financial incentives. “Cash is King”, as they say, and nothing gets a potential FCEVs driver’s attention like the State of CA offering a $5,000 rebate to purchase a zero-emission car (for low income applicants, this rebate increases to $7,000). Thanks to California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), which is funded by the State’s Cap & Trade Program through the California Air Resources Board, FCEV drivers are eligible for the rebate when buying or leasing a clean, zero emission hydrogen FCEV. The Honda Clarity FCEV is being offered as a lease in California for $379 a month + tax and includes FUEL. That’s right, hydrogen fuel is provided in the lease, for up to $15,000 over three years! In a city where the price of gasoline per gallon is more than a Starbucks latte, it was smart to reduce the fuel cost burden so including fuel should not be dismissed when car shopping. It was a genius move by all of the OEMs offering FCVs in California today. By taking away the price of fuel, it brings the total cost of leasing a FCEV below many of its fossil fuel competitors BEFORE getting the CVRP rebate. This is a great step forward to a future where the price of hydrogen will no longer need to be subsidized, as the increase in volume and infrastructure economies of scale lowers the fuel cost of hydrogen to parity with gasoline.

read more in H2-international October 2019

Author: Cory Shumaker, California Hydrogen Business Council

Leave a Reply