Right on the heels of a fuel-cell-focused LA auto show, Hyundai Canada confirmed today that it will bring its Tucson fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) to Canada, or at least to the greater Vancouver area, by publicly re-commissioning various hydrogen fuel stations used during the 2010 Winter Olympics for fuel cell passenger cars that had since been used only for research purposes. Thus the various fuel cell introductions and announcements in LA now strike a more relevant note up here in Canada.

With fuel cells and hydrogen-powered vehicles the dominant green theme, the contrast between the California car market and the Canadian one was particularly striking. With most of North America outside southern California currently without a viable network of publicly available hydrogen fuel stations, this year’s most significant green car announcement around the LA auto show may not be Toyota’s launch of its ground-breaking Mirai fuel cell production car, but Toyota’s investment of millions of dollars in 12 hydrogen fuel cell stations in five northeast states, in association with industrial fuel provider Air Liquide.

Any such aggressive fuel cell plans are good news for the greater Vancouver area of BC, which is still a global hotbed for automotive fuel cell research, though the public hydrogen infrastructure in all other parts of the country is still largely non-existent.

Daimler AG has set up a Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell facility in Burnaby, BC, and they are still partners with Ford in the Automotive Fuel Cell Company, which arose when auto fuel cell pioneer Ballard Power Systems had had enough of automaker and fuel retailer dithering and decided to focus on fuel cells for fork lifts and other industrial applications. Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan are co-developing a fuel cell that they’ve announced a plan to introduce by 2017, using many of the same researchers and facilities that Ballard used to make many of their breakthroughs in the late 1990s.

Audi A7 h-tronToyota MiraiFiat 500e
Audi A7 h-tron, Toyota Mirai, Fiat 500e. Click image to enlarge

In a panel discussion just before the show on the challenges and plans to expand the five state northeast hydrogen infrastructure, Air Liquide CEO Ole Hofelmann said that while the company has no firm plans to open a station never mind a hydrogen network of stations in Canada, the launch of those northeast stations could help it build on the firm’s strong industrial base here.

“We are looking for how to go north from the northeast stations,” which will focus primarily in and around Boston and New York City to start.

No firm completion date was set for those 12 stations, but Toyota said it planned to start selling (or mostly leasing) the Mirai in the northeast by the end of 2016, and in other areas as the infrastructure expanded. “We expect tens of thousands sold in the 2020s,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation board, and known at the company as the spiritual father to the Prius.

Why does Toyota expect about 90 percent of its early Mirai buyers to lease?

Because they may be early adopters, but they’re not dumb. Even with US$13,000 off its $57,500 MSRP ($8,000 is the max U.S. zero emissions vehicle incentive, plus a $5,000 California one), that’d still be more than $1,236/month if paid over three years – and that’s with no interest charges – compared to the 36-month lease deal Toyota recently announced at $499/month. Toyota admits it’s not making money on either of these prices, plus it will pay for the fuel of these first customers, until the U.S. or state authorities confirm standards to accurately measure and dispense compressed hydrogen fuel, which Hofelmann suggested will take another six months to a year.

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