MINNEAPOLIS – Hyundai may expand the reach of its Tucson fuel-cell vehicle to Northern California, despite reports of unusable hydrogen pumps stymying lessees down state.
“We’re starting to look at additional dealer coverage in the Bay Area,” Dave Zuchowski, CEO-Hyundai Motor America, tells WardsAuto here in an interview.
Currently, only three Hyundai dealers, in the Southern California cities of Anaheim, Carson and Tustin lease the Tucson FCV, a 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner. This is due to the dealers’ close proximity to publicly accessible refueling stations.
Although it has been available in the U.S. for a year, leases of the hydrogen-powered Tucson remain relegated to the lower portion of the state, with Zuchowski saying, “The fuel-cell refueling issue is still one of capacity.”
However, Hyundai expects the number of hydrogen stations in the Golden State to double by the end of this year.
“They’re still talking about going from seven right now to 15 or 16, so once they get building them, and they’re under-construction right now, it’s about a 2-month construction period,” Zuchowski says.
Overshadowing this news are reports of Orange County pumps that are supposed to be in service, but frequently don’t work or dispense hydrogen slowly.
“We’re still dealing a little bit with stations being down unexpectedly and having no hydrogen available for refueling,” Zuchowski says.
Green Car Reports has been tracking Tucson lessee experiences. Last week, Tucson FCV driver Paul Berkman of Corona del Mar, CA, told the alternative-vehicle website he had been without his CUV for over a month because the three hydrogen pumps closest to his home or office have been down.
One pump, at a Shell station in Newport Beach, struggles to reach the appropriate pressure for dispensing.
Others commenting on a private Tucson FCV owners’ Facebook page express frustration paying $499 per month for a vehicle they can’t drive every day, with one person considering asking Hyundai to take his vehicle back.
Tucson FCV leases are for a 3-year period and require interested parties put $2,999 down in addition to the monthly fee.
Zuchowski blames the refueling woes on the conversion of formerly private hydrogen pumps “which were never intended for commercial use.
“So that’s been a bit of a problem and we’re getting through that really quickly,” he says, noting new, ground-up stations shouldn’t have dispensing issues.
Zuchowski in May told media of another refueling problem, contaminated hydrogen being dispensed from pumps, but now says that issue has been resolved.
Responding to Green Car Reports, the California Air Resources Board, which is mandating automakers sell a certain percentage of zero-emission vehicles in the state, blames a “transitional phase” of infrastructure development for the unreliable refueling and touts new stations coming online, including 10 in “active construction.”
“The best thing that can happen for us is the new stations opening,” Zuchowski says of spurring more California drivers to opt for FCVs.
Until then, the refueling issue threatens to slow the already low rate of Tucson FCV leases, if not FCV adoption as a whole.
In the first half of 2015, Hyundai leased 17 Tucson FCVs in California. Some 71 units have been leased in the state since the vehicle went on sale early last summer.
The adoption rate is similarly low in other countries, and globally Tucson FCV sales tally well below the 1,000 Hyundai is targeting by the end of this year.
Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported last month Tucson FCV sales through May of 273 units. That includes 29 in South Korea, and 116 and 117 that have been exported to the U.S. and Europe, respectively.
To spur buyers in its home market, where it sells, instead of leases, the FCV, Hyundai sliced the CUV’s price by 43% in February, from $144,000 to $77,000. Factoring in government spiffs, the cost was reduced from $86,000 to roughly $54,000.
Toyota last week told WardsAuto 600 people have signed up for its Mirai fuel-cell sedan, and it too believes the refueling-station woes will work themselves out when new stations come online.