Toyota’s Hydrogen Future Is Crumbling As Owners File Lawsuits, Call For Buybacks

Toyota’s Hydrogen Future Is Crumbling As Owners File Lawsuits, Call For Buybacks

Mirai means “future” in Japanese. When Toyota made a big bet that hydrogen was the future of driving, naming its first hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell EV the Toyota Mirai seemed a fitting move for those huge ambitions.

Things haven’t worked out that way. As early adopters found out, the Mirai wasn’t the ideal future that so many wanted it to be. In fact, the crumbling infrastructure and depreciation have some owners calling on Toyota for a buyback—and even filing lawsuits over their experience. Today, many of them are furious, feeling deceived over buying a car they felt had immense potential but never got the fueling infrastructure necessary to back it up. 

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Toyota’s big bet on hydrogen

More than any other automaker, Toyota put a huge bet on hydrogen fuel cell cars starting in the early 1990s. But fueling has proven to be a major challenge, and so far, the future of hydrogen for passenger cars looks grim. 

“There [is] no longer any hydrogen fuel available in San Francisco where I live. Toyota continues to sell this vehicle. How is this acceptable?” said Shawn Hall, one of several Mirai owners who spoke to InsideEVs. “Besides the South San Francisco station, the next closest stations are 40 miles one way to Sunnyvale, or 15 miles [across either the Golden Gate or Bay Bridges, which means] paying a bridge toll of $8.75 or $7 in addition to traffic, time, and wasted fuel. And even though the online map or Fuel app within the Mirai console says there is available fuel, there’s no guarantee that is true.”

2021 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Review

It’s a common outcome: owners like Hall would find themselves driving to these hydrogen stations only to find them offline or out of order, sometimes for days while the station was waiting for a repair or even just a delivery of hydrogen.

In some cases, drivers would pull up to a pump only to find another car frozen to the hydrogen nozzle due to the extremely low temperatures where hydrogen is stored. This turned five-minute fueling sessions into an hour or more of being stuck while waiting for a station tech to arrive and unfreeze the car. Meanwhile, other cars running next to empty are lining up for multiple hours and unable to reach the next station due to lack of fuel.

The situation is not unlike many early charging challenges faced by EV owners in recent years—something that’s still the case in areas where charging access is sparse. But while America added well over 1,000 DC fast chargers last year alone, the hydrogen fueling infrastructure has actually dwindled further in California, the only state where it was ever largely available. 

Toyota Mirai - 1

“[T]he user experience of owning a hydrogen car is, to put it mildly, not so good,” said California State Sen. Josh Newman, who himself drives a Toyota Mirai. He later continued: “[I]t’s not due to the cars themselves. They’re awesome. It’s the refueling. The reality is the state of H2 refueling in California is, in a word, abysmal. It’s a far cry from the promise the state made to all of us as part of being the early adopters to the FCEV platform, to the point where it’s now often an open and unnerving question as to whether you’ll be able to find fuel.”

It’s not like this is a new complaint from owners. You can find news stories covering every angle of the shortage dating back years: from lack of fueling locations, to offline stations, and even the shortage of fuel. The reality is that the infrastructure hasn’t improved enough and now everyone from owners to businesses are finally fed up.

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In a statement to InsideEVs, Toyota officials said that it’s aware of the issue and is actively working with owners to address their challenges.

“Toyota recognizes that certain Mirai customers in California may experience refueling challenges due to recent closures of hydrogen stations,” the company said. “Affected Mirai customers can locate other stations across the region using tools like the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership website or contact our Brand Engagement Center […] to discuss other resources available to them.

The company added, “We will continue to work with affected Mirai customers to help identify ways to address their concerns on a case-by-case basis. We remain committed to working with stakeholders to support California’s hydrogen refueling infrastructure now and into the future.”

Toyota Mirai 2

A Great Buy… On Paper

Hydrogen fuel cell tech is still in its infancy. But if there’s any company best suited to deliver a hydrogen FCEV consumer car, it’s Toyota. After all, the automaker has been working on the tech for three decades and has been actually selling one—the first Mirai—in 2015.

At its core, a Mirai, or any hydrogen-powered FCEV for that matter, is an electric car. Rather than taking the time to transfer power from the grid to the battery, hydrogen FCEVs store compressed hydrogen in tanks, making it possible to charge the tiny onboard battery with only water and heat as the byproducts. This makes it ideal for customers who want to own an EV but might not have charging available at home for whatever reason.

But just like we’ve seen with battery-electric cars, new propulsion tech means spending big bucks, and that applies to both the infrastructure and vehicles themselves. The base price of a 2023 Mirai is $50,595 after delivery and can be inflated to as much as $67,095 for the Limited trim. That’s as much as a BMW 5 Series but for a sedan sporting a Toyota badge (though the Mirai is built on the same GA-L platform shared with the Lexus LS).

20240223 - Toyota Mirai 1

To offset the high vehicle price and make consumers feel better about growing pains, Toyota offered generous incentives to cut the cost of the Mirai. Buyers who finance a Mirai XLE get a $22,000 incentive, which brings the cost down to $28,595 before other federal and state incentives. Toyota also announced a new $40,000 incentive for the Limited trim, which brings the total cost of the vehicle down to just $27,095. And yes, thanks to that new incentive, the higher Limited trim is currently a net cheaper buy than the XLE.

Toyota will also pay for a Mirai owner’s hydrogen with the purchase of the vehicle. When purchasing a new Mirai, Toyota will pony up a fuel card worth $15,000. The card is good for six years, or just under 30,000 miles of range in a Mirai XLE if the owner can hit Toyota’s claimed range of 402 miles per tank.

2021 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Review

To make the deal even more appealing, salespeople at Toyota’s dealerships even allegedly told shoppers that the Mirai would be as easy to fuel up as a gas car, with hydrogen fueling stations being just as available to them as a traditional gas station.

Those points all make the Mirai seem like a good buy, right? Not only can you get it for the price of a Camry, but it looks like a normal sedan, and Toyota will also pony up the cost to drive it around. But with fewer refueling stations and the price of hydrogen skyrocketing, the benefits aren’t working out exactly like owners predicted.

Crumbling Infrastructure

Hydrogen refueling infrastructure isn’t exactly flourishing in the U.S. It’s expensive to build and with very few vehicles (the Mirai, Hyundai Nexo, and Honda Clarity Fuel Cell) actually on the road or immediately planned for launch, there isn’t much of a financial incentive for companies to build it out.

The infrastructure that is deployed isn’t in great shape. Stations are frequently going offline, and many are running out of fuel between deliveries. Hydrogen supply issues seem to be the biggest cause of these outages.

Shell Hydrogen, a subset of the same company that distributes petroleum fuel products to traditional gas cars, pulled out of the hydrogen game earlier in February. The company cited “hydrogen supply complications and other external market factors” as its reasoning. It has since shuttered its three stations and scrapped all plans to build more in the U.S. The closure left San Francisco without any hydrogen stations within its city limits, and Sacramento with only one charger for all hydrogen-driving residents to share.

The next closest charger? Sixty-five miles away miles. That means spending between 30% and 50% of a tank ($60-$100 worth of hydrogen), plus commuting time, just to refuel the car.

Toyota Mirai FCEV Hydrogen Line

Jason Ingber, an attorney who has helped many owners launch ongoing litigation against Toyota over the Mirai, told InsideEVs that he believes dealerships misrepresented the availability of hydrogen from the start.

Salespeople would purposefully represent hydrogen as being readily available, he said. Buyers—many of whom had no idea what a hydrogen-powered car was when walking into a dealership—would leave the table with the keys to a new Mirai and expect to fill up just as easily as they would at any other gas station. But that simply wasn’t the case for many.

“I will be honest, I did not do the proper research and truly understand the struggles of filling up. The dealership downplayed the situation immensely,” wrote one Mirai owner on Reddit. “There was no talk of stations being down, fuel shortages, long lines, etc. The most that was mentioned was the recommendation to fill up whenever you are near a station.”

Toyota tells InsideEVs that it does have educational resources for dealerships to learn about how hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure work.

Owners quickly found that the Mirai would become their personal range anxiety hell. If you thought worrying about whether or not your electric car could make it to the next stop, Mirai owners experienced that same feeling but intensified. It’s easy to find a spare 110-volt outlet for a Level 1 travel charger. But a spare hydrogen fueling station? Not going to happen.

2021 Toyota Mirai

To Toyota’s credit, owners are recognizing that the automaker is trying to come up with resolutions to their fueling issues. The automaker is providing gas-powered loaners and fuel reimbursement to help offset the pain felt by those who can’t use their cars. The problem is, loaner cars and reimbursement can only do so much when the infrastructure continues to become less reliable.

At the time of writing, there are 52 hydrogen fueling stations nationwide, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center. At its peak in 2023, ADFC says there were 59 retail hydrogen stations in operation. Three of the currently listed locations are operated by Shell, meaning that 17% of all hydrogen refueling stations have either closed in less than a year. The reality is that the infrastructure hasn’t improved enough and now everyone from owners to businesses are finally fed up.

“I think it has become clear to industry reps and policymakers alike that we, as a state, should have approached the introduction of hydrogen cars differently from the outset,” said Greg Cane, founding member of the California Hydrogen Car Owners Association. “We deployed stations too slowly with a technology that was still developing. As related to the technology challenges, things are evolving rapidly… the new liquid hydrogen stations have a much greater uptime than the older stations.”

He added, “As it relates to the construction of additional [hydrogen refueling stations], we need to ‘Regroup and Recommit’. Station development must precede FCEV deployment.”

Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Pump Dispenser Unavailable

Dispensing enough hydrogen to fully top off has also been a huge issue for owners. Some stations will only partially fill a tank, stopping prematurely and requiring owners to start a new transaction to continue filling up.

Unfortunately, Toyota’s fuel card can be used so many times in one day. After three authorizations, no matter how small, the card is locked out for the remainder of the day. The owners then need to call the card issuer to increase the number of authorizations, which seems like a stressful situation when other cars are waiting to fill up.

Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Pump Charges

It doesn’t appear that this is intentional, but perhaps a technical glitch or limitation that still affects hydrogen owners. A True Zero station operator told InsideEVs that they do not limit the amount of hydrogen dispensed at the pump and that any car should be able to completely fill up when they visit.

“The Iwatani hydrogen station is fragile, has only one working pump, and dispenses fuel every 20 minutes. It also has a limit of about one-third of the full tank per fill, so a Mirai driver has to spend one hour at the pump to fill up to 100% if the driver comes to the station with less than 30% in the tank,” Benko said. “[Last month] my Mirai completely lost power when I was waiting in line because I had my heater on. I called Mirai’s emergency roadside assistance. The assistance came in an hour and recharged my battery; however, the line moved up only 1 car in that time, so I was still an hour away from getting to the pump.”

He added, “The whole process of refueling a hydrogen car is plain horrible.”

2016 Toyota Mirai

And then there’s the freezing. Owners often show up to refuel and become stuck—sometimes for hours—to the pump. This has been an issue for some hydrogen fueling stations where pumps are positioned between traditional gasoline dispensers. Fueling station clerks sometimes need to corral a group of hydrogen-powered vehicles lined up waiting for a car to unfreeze from the pump so they don’t lose revenue from blocked gasoline pumps.

Toyota recognizes the struggle owners are feeling due to the infrastructure problems. The automaker seems to feel that it is largely at the mercy of the station providers since it isn’t in the refueling business itself. Unfortunately, when large providers like Shell back out, the automaker has no way of immediately remedying the issue, which may leave owners pointing the finger back at the automaker for selling them a car with nowhere to refuel.

Toyota also told InsideEVs that it is exploring options on how the fuel card can be improved to better support owners but has nothing official to announce at this time. It also said that it has redirected units away from areas challenged by permanently shuttered hydrogen stations.

Hiked-Up Hydrogen

It’s not just the decreasing number of stations that have owners in a bind. The cost of the hydrogen has also skyrocketed.

Unlike gasoline (which is measured in liquid volume), Hydrogen is measured and sold by weight. In 2021, hydrogen station chain True Zero charged just $13.14 per kilogram of hydrogen. Today, it costs $36 per kg. That means a Mirai’s 5.65 kg fuel tanks costs about $203 to fill up from empty.

Hydrogen Pump

Owners have said online that the real-world range of the Mirai is around 260 miles to a tank of hydrogen, quite a bit less than Toyota’s claim of 402 miles. This works out to around $0.78 per mile, or around 19,230 miles until Toyota’s fuel card is kaput. After that owners are responsible for footing the hydrogen bill.

Using average crowd-sourced real-world fuel economy and the average gas price of $4.64 in California, it’s possible to compare the cost of driving a Mirai against other vehicles. For example, a Toyota Prius costs about $0.10 per mile to drive and a Ford F-150 costs $0.27 per mile. That means the per-mile cost of driving the Mirai is nearly three times as a Ford F-150 when the owner is paying for fuel.

Other countries overseas have had more success in their own hydrogen rollouts—Japan has 241 stations deployed across seven of its eight regions and Europe has 178 hydrogen refueling stations across 13 different countries. The U.S. seems to have missed the mark somewhere along the line, driving up hydrogen prices compared to Japan’s $11 per kg and Europe’s $15.

Depreciation, Demand, Defeat

On top of the fueling issues, the depreciation of these cars has hammered owners. An owner of a 2022 Limited with just 9,700 miles took their car to be appraised at a dealership for a buyback less than three weeks ago and was quoted between $10,000 and $11,000. Keep in mind that the Limited trim was priced at around $37,000 after Toyota’s financing incentives until earlier this week, which means a 72% value loss in just two years. That’s more than even some luxury marques.

When you also consider the $15,000 fuel card and California’s $4,500 clean vehicle rebate, it begins to make sense how this car has experienced so much depreciation. And with an uncertain future, owners appear to be offloading cars quite quickly.

A 2020 Toyota Mirai for sale.

Right now, Carfax has aggregated 234 listings for used Toyota Mirais. More than half of the listings have less than 40,000 miles on the odometer, which hints that some owners could be offloading the cars once Toyota’s fuel card is used up due to the price of fuel.

Shawn Hall, the owner we spoke with earlier, told InsideEVs that after purchasing his Mirai in March, he returned to the dealership in October in an attempt to get out of the car. With just 7,000 miles on the vehicle, Hall was offered only $15,000 “due to the fuel issues.”

“We all need to realize that we bought a vehicle that had, at best, a questionable future,” wrote one user on Reddit, referring to the Mirai and hydrogen ecosystem in the U.S. “Unfortunately in this instance, the gamble didn’t pay off, and the technology of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles does not appear to be something the vehicle industry is invested in pursuing. Very similar to HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray, there was one clear winner and in our instance, the battery-powered EV won out over H2. Its sucks, but it is what it is.”

Owners Seek Legal Redress

Many of the Mirai owners I spoke with made it clear that they love their cars.

With its Lexus underpinnings,  the current-generation Mirai has been described to me as a “dream to drive.” What they don’t love is the infrastructure supporting it and the way it was represented to them before they purchased it. 

Owners fed up with the cars have organized a secret Telegram group to discuss their issues. The group outlines the process of lodging a tracked complaint to Toyota regarding the lack of reliable infrastructure, requesting rental cars, requesting reimbursement for refueling, and other solutions to common issues exclusive to the Mirai owner community.

Toyota Mirai at TMEC Hydrogen Station in Changshu High Tech Industrial Park, Changshu, Jiangsu Province, China

At one point, I watched the Telegram group blow up with news of a station outage. The group members quickly began organizing to request rentals from Toyotal over the lack of fuel. It was almost systematic, likely done according to the script penned by the group’s members on how to survive with a Mirai.

Some owners requested requested Toyota buy back their vehicles. One owner said that when they attempted to enter into arbitration to have Toyota repurchase their vehicle, Toyota declined, citing that “no defect in workmanship or materials have been found.” Instead, Toyota reportedly said that the customer’s primary concern was the lack of availability of hydrogen fuel and that “the availability of hydrogen refueling stations is beyond the scope of this warranty-related arbitral forum.”

Several owners have gone as far as lodging lawsuits against Toyota. The owners claim that Toyota falsified its “over 400-mile” range, that the infrastructure is unreliable, and that the “arduous journeys” for hydrogen fueling stations often eat into the vehicle’s range—sometimes more than 50 miles just to refuel. Others claim unfair practices by dealerships who sold them on the promise of a gas-equivalent ownership experience.

Toyota Mirai Lawsuit: Download Here

In a recent case, Ingber has moved a potential class action involving 30 named plaintiffs into individual arbitrations. Ingber told me that he had another 20 potential clients who have approached him about also entering into litigation against Toyota over the Mirai. And in the short time between speaking with Ingber and interacting with owners in their Telegram group, several other owners joined the group and asked how to retain Ingber to represent them as well.

Toyota Mirai at Hydrogen Pump

Toyota might be putting on a smile with customers, but internally, the reality of the Mirai seems to have set in. Chief Technical Officer Hiroki Nakajima reluctantly admitted that the Mirai has “not been successful” at the Japan Mobility Show last year despite the company’s continuation of hydrogen R&D even as it accelerates its EV investments.

Many owners say that the Mirai is a great car—a great second car. When fuel is available, many owners love the Mirai. And at the end of the day, the Mirai is an EV. It’s just refueled by combining oxygen and stored hydrogen to produce electricity rather than plug it into an outlet.

But many can’t afford a second car priced at $67,000, even with a $40,000 financing incentive. They buy the car to drive as their primary vehicle and expect it to be reliable in every sense of the word. Many owners believe that it has failed them in that way.

“Not in my wildest dreams or nightmares would I expect a purchase from a giant car company like Toyota would turn out to be such a terrible experience,” owner Hall said. “The entire H2 vehicle experience is an experiment that is failing. I didn’t expect to buy a vehicle from Toyota and feel duped, cheated, and misled.”

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Toyota’s Hydrogen Future Is Crumbling As Owners File Lawsuits, Call‍ For ‍Buybacks

Toyota, one of the leading automakers ‍in the world, has been heavily investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology in recent years. However, the company’s hydrogen future is now facing a major setback as owners of its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have started filing lawsuits and calling for buybacks.

The Toyota Mirai, ‍introduced in 2015, was touted as a breakthrough in sustainable transportation with its hydrogen fuel ‌cell technology that produces zero emissions. Despite its environmental benefits, owners of the Mirai have been experiencing numerous issues with the vehicle, ranging ⁤from faulty fuel cells to‍ a lack of infrastructure for refueling.

Several Mirai owners have taken legal action against Toyota, claiming ​that the⁣ company‍ has failed to provide adequate support and service for‌ their vehicles. In one recent lawsuit, a Mirai owner alleged that Toyota had misrepresented the vehicle’s capabilities and ⁤performance, leading to unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs.

In response to the growing discontent among Mirai ⁤owners, calls for buybacks have also been⁣ mounting. Owners ⁣argue that Toyota​ should take responsibility for the defects in their vehicles and ⁢offer refunds or replacements to compensate for ​their troubles.

The backlash against Toyota’s hydrogen future comes at a time when other automakers are shifting their⁤ focus towards electric ⁤vehicles as a⁣ more viable and⁣ reliable alternative to traditional gasoline-powered cars. The rise of electric vehicles has also led⁣ to a⁢ more developed infrastructure for charging stations,‍ making them a more practical choice for consumers.

In ‍light of these developments, ⁤Toyota now faces a ‌crucial decision on how to salvage its hydrogen fuel cell technology and restore confidence among Mirai owners. If ⁣the company fails to address the concerns of its customers, its hydrogen future could be in jeopardy, potentially leading ⁣to a decline in ⁣sales and ‌reputation.

As the ⁤automotive industry continues ⁢to evolve towards ⁤more sustainable‌ and eco-friendly solutions, Toyota must adapt to the changing⁣ landscape and prioritize ‌the ⁣needs of its customers. Only time will tell whether the company can overcome the challenges facing its⁣ hydrogen future and emerge stronger in ⁢the ever-evolving⁤ market.