Hydrogen is Ridiculously Expensive, or Free - 2016 Toyota Mirai Long-Term Road Test

2016 Toyota Mirai Long-Term Road Test

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2016 Toyota Mirai: Hydrogen is Ridiculously Expensive, or Free

by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing on August 31, 2016

2016 Toyota Mirai

We have refilled our 2016 Toyota Mirai over two dozen times at a half-dozen pumps. Even though the car is powered by electric motors, filling it is very similar to filling a gasoline-powered car.

What's different is the price. Hydrogen is ridiculously expensive.

Or it's free!

Let me explain.

The price at the six stations we've visited has ranged from $12.85 per kilogram to $16.63 per kilogram. That's a big difference, one I cannot easily explain. Local taxes and/or subsidies, I suspect. It seems to vary by city limits. Either way, this fuel is frighteningly expensive.

The Mirai is rated at 67 mpg-e. As I have often said, mpg-e is a bogus way to estimate an alt-fuel car's cost of operation if you use mpg as a shorthand for dollars and cents. The mpg-e equivalency is only meant to convey the energy content of the fuel, not how much it costs. Hydrogen makes that point very clear.

The truth starts to emerge when we turn mpg-e into cost per mile. After that we can convert that back into what I call mpg-c in order to characterize the Mirai's performance using mpg as a cost yardstick.

Behold, the math.

As it happens, 67 mpg-e is equal to 67 mpkg of hydrogen. Assuming you achieve that mileage, divide the per-kilogram price by rated mpkg to get cost per mile. Hydrogen bought at $12.85 per kilogram in Santa Monica works out to 19.2 cents per mile. The more expensive price of $16.63 they charge in Long Beach boils down to 24.8 cents per mile.

Now let's look at a garden-variety 2016 Toyota Prius. That car is rated at 52 mpg on regular gasoline. Today's national average price for regular is $2.141 per gallon. That works out to just 4.1 cents per mile.

Yeah.

This is where it gets fun. Pretend the Mirai's per-mile costs were incurred by a gasoline-burning car. What mpg would that gasoline car have to achieve to rack up the same cost per mile? That result is what I call the Mirai's mpg-c. That number changes with the cost of the fuel, so we'll get different results for Santa Monica and Long Beach. This cost sensitivity is why it's not practical to put mpg-c on a window sticker.

Anyway, the 19.2 cents per mile that our Mirai costs in Santa Monica represents the same drag on your wallet you'd get from your gasoline-burning car if it achieved 11.2 mpg. At the Long Beach price (24.8 cents per mile), the Mirai costs the same to run as a gasoline-burning car that gets 8.6 mpg.

What car is as bad as that? I couldn't find one. The 2015 Bugatti Veyron is rated at 10 mpg combined. The Lamborghini Aventador is a comparative hypermiler at 13 mpg.

As for us, we're not quite hitting the 67 mpkg rating with our car, and we're filling up at a variety of stations with prices that range between the Santa Monica and Long Beach endpoints. Our overall average works out to 26 cents per mile, which is 8.2 mpg-c when compared to gasoline.

Note that none of these frighteningly low mpg-c figures say the Mirai is inefficient. What they say is hydrogen is very expensive.

Or it's not.

Buy or lease a Mirai and you'll get a gas card that gives you free fuel for three years. Like a Tesla's Supercharger electricity, it costs you nothing. In three years you get up to $15,000 worth, so you'd have to be a real leadfoot or drive a lot of miles — or both — to burn through all that. Competing fuel cell cars are set to offer the same deal.

After three years, though, you're on your own. Maybe the price will drop. Probably the price will drop. The future of hydrogen power depends on it. But by how much? Maybe it's better to lease this one. A lot can change in three years. Something better will come along. Something better-looking certainly will.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 5,333 miles

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