As hydrogen fuel cell cars are starting to make their presence felt in California, True Zero stations are being installed in existing filling stations in an attempt to make hydrogen customers feel more at ease.
True Zero is owned by FirstElement Fuel, a startup company headed by Joel Ewanick of former GM & Hyundai fame. Though at first the company announced plans to build 19 stations in California in 2015, permitting and equipment issues did manage to slow things down.
“These issues happen,” said Ewanick in an interview with Autonews. “If we were opening a Starbucks we’d still have issues.”
Out of the 19 promised stations, FirstElement currently has only 13 True Zero stations operational, with most of them positioned in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas. If they manage to build the other 6 stations by early next year, True Zero will own a dominant share of the market in California – as there are just six other competing retail hydrogen stations.
Timing is important because the car manufacturers are moving ahead with production models such as the Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Tucson and Honda’s second-gen Clarity FCV, set to go on sale this year.
Toyota has already sold 210 Mirai sedans in California, while Hyundai has about 100 fuel cell-powered Tucson leased to customers.
While these numbers don’t really resonate on a large scale, large automakers such as Toyota and Honda are looking to do whatever they can in order to make owning a hydrogen-powered car as good an experience as possible for their customers.
“For automakers, what they get is a reliable customer experience,” added Ewanick. “The last thing they want to do is put these cars on the road and have an experience that reflects poorly on the brand.”
Toyota and Honda have already provided $13.8 million in loans for building True Zero stations, while FirstElement has also received $27.6 million in grants from the California Energy Commission, plus another $2 million in grants from regional air-quality management districts.