The Best Used Car Deal On The Block Is A Hydrogen-Powered Sedan
Stylish Tesla Model 3s and Ys can be found all around Southern California, but if you’re in the market for a zero-emissions used car that’s more affordable than the $50,000 or so charged for those vehicles out the door (and live in the Los Angeles area) there’s another electric option to consider: an off-lease Toyota Mirai fuel cell sedan.
California is one of the few places in the world with a network of hydrogen fuel stations open to drivers, so Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have limited sales of their fuel cell models to the Golden State. Toyota’s largest dealership, Longo Toyota in the L.A. suburb of El Monte, also has the largest supply of used Mirais. It has sold over 500 of the cars in the past 12 months.
Like Elon Musk’s Teslas, Mirais are powered by electricity. But whereas battery vehicles store power needed for propulsion, Toyota’s fuel system makes electricity on-board the car as needed, emitting nothing more than water vapor. A key benefit of fuel cell vehicles is a quick 5-minute refueling and a long driving distance of over 300 miles on a single tank (for Toyota’s upgraded Mirai that came out recently). The first Mirais were sold in 2015 in small quantities reaching the steady high numbers of 301 cars sold just by Longo in 2017.
As they came back from their leases, “Toyota was highly motivated to sell these cars at a lower price so that they could expose this type of technology to lower-income customers that would otherwise not be able to get into a zero-emission car like this,” says Doug Eroh, President & General Manager of Longo Toyota. Indeed, the cars initially valued at $58,000 are now offered under $18,000, sweetened with a $15,000 fueling card. The fueling card is like a preloaded debit card that can only be used at hydrogen stations to pay for the fuel. With prices like $12-$20 per kilogram of hydrogen, this is a great deal that can pay for about 60,000 miles of driving. No wonder that with prices and incentives like these, Toyota Longo has been selling these like hotcakes. Due to Covid-19 selling cars in 2020 was a challenge, but Longo sold 310 Mirais that year just starting in July. This was followed by 229 more in 2021 in the first four months. “As we looked around, we realized that, whether it was intentional or not, the opportunity to expose zero-emissions technology to lower income people was something really no one has ever done,” Eroh says.
Longo serves customers from neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley, along highways 605 and 710. The latter has air quality that’s among the most polluted areas in the U.S. So Longo has given well over 500 clean cars a new life in the hands of a new customer demographic.
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These drivers also have the confidence and backing of Toyota as a company. Mirais come with an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on all fuel cell components and a 15-year warranty for the high-pressure hydrogen tank that gets filled up to 10,000 psi. That applies to both new and preowned cars from day 1 of sales in 2015. “I don’t think I have seen any kind of fuel cell component issue on these cars whatsoever,” adds Neil Polzin, Business Development Manager at Longo Toyota. Mirai’s power plant has shown unprecedented durability, with only two vehicles having software glitches that needed attention out of 1200 new Mirais sold at Longo. That’s better than their record for internal combustion cars. The dealership has invested $100,000 in its hydrogen-proof vehicle repair bay, including the installation of ventilation and hydrogen leak sensors. There isn’t much in the way of repairs to be done for that investment and the bay is only occasionally used for collision repair of fuel cell vehicles.
Toyota also offers the plug-in hybrid Prius and RAV4, the latter has a waiting list. A fully electric SUV from Toyota is expected sometime next year, but the carmaker’s fully updated 2021 hydrogen Mirai is already a popular choice at Longo Toyota. This indicates a strong interest in clean transportation options, but the choice of powertrain depends on where the energy to drive those vehicles will come from, how far the vehicle needs to go and how fast it needs to be refueled.
Both electrical charging and hydrogen refueling are still insufficient in many places. But more and more hydrogen stations are coming online in California for those opting for hydrogen vehicles. Longo Toyota has developed an approach to fueling the off-lease Mirais that arrive at the dealership completely empty. The cars are loaded on a flat-bed tow truck two or three at a time and refueled without off-loading at nearby hydrogen stations in South Pasadena, at Cal State Los Angeles and in Diamond Bar. Refueling operations will improve for Toyota Longo and its customers with an additional station that will be opening in Baldwin Park. It will be able to dispense up to 800 kg per day. “Refueling a hydrogen vehicle is very similar to pumping at the gas station. The only real difference is that your making a positive contribution towards climate change which can impact our health and the way we move forward towards a sustainable future,” cheers Rocky Salazar from Autozar Transport driving the towing truck for Toyota Longo.
Though the numbers involved are much smaller than sales for Tesla, the off-lease Mirai program at Longo Toyota tells a good story for fuel cell vehicle technology becoming mature enough to be a reliable, clean alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles.