TOKYO -- The old joke about electric vehicles is, "How long is your extension cord?"
But nearly every home or business has a 110-volt outlet that can charge your EV if it runs out of juice.
That's not the case with the 2015 arrival of hydrogen fuel cell cars on dealership lots, with entries from Toyota and Honda.
I recently drove a mule of Toyota's fuel cell vehicle, which will be unveiled in November at the Tokyo Motor Show. It showed tire-chirping torque and reasonable handling. It felt like an everyday motorized car, albeit one with zero tailpipe emissions.
The problem is what happens when the car's hydrogen fuel tank runs dry. Unlike electric cars using a home's connection to the grid, there are no plans for in-home reformers to convert natural gas to hydrogen and store it on site. That means service stations are the only way to refuel. And while hydrogen is a common element, it is very challenging to transport and store in mass quantities.
California is the leader in creating a "hydrogen highway" -- which consists of a mere nine public refueling stations statewide. The state recently set aside funds to create 100 total stations at $1 million apiece. But that likely won't be sufficient infrastructure to support the technology if drivers wish to stretch their hydrogen cars' legs.
In the interim, automakers are developing portable tankers to rescue their stranded fuel cell cars. But those are exceedingly inefficient. Toyota unveiled a portable tanker that is the size of a double-wide trailer, weighs 20 tons and can refuel just six cars. By comparison, a similarly-sized gasoline tanker holds about 8,800 gallons of fuel -- enough to fill more than 500 standard cars.
Fifty years ago, hydrogen cars were 20 years away. Ten years ago, hydrogen cars were still 20 years away. But now, hydrogen cars will be here in 18 months. Sadly, it appears that we're not ready for them.