The company that’s building True Zero hydrogen fueling stations says that it can hit its original target by early next year.
Headed by former GM and Hyundai marketing guru Joel Ewanick, FirstElement Fuel, a startup that operates the True Zero stations, says that the company wants provide the needed fueling infrastructure to support increased sales of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. True Zero has been at the center of bringing hydrogen stations to California to meet goals set by automakers and regulators.
FirstElement, based in Irvine, Calif., had initially announced plans to build 19 stations in California in 2015. Hurdles such as permitting and equipment issues have slowed that timeline, bringing the total to 13 True Zero stations in operation now that are mostly clustered in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas. Ewanick hopes to have the rest of the 19 stations in place by early next year.
“These issues happen,” Ewanick told Automotive News. “If we were opening a Starbucks we’d still have issues.”
Reaching its goals will give True Zero a dominant share of the market in California. There are just six other retail hydrogen stations in place that are not owned by FirstElement.
FirstElement hopes to support automakers as more fuel cell vehicles roll out. Toyota has sold 210 Mirai sedans in California, and Hyundai leased about 100 fuel cell Tucsons to customers. Honda’s second-generation Clarity FCV goes on sale this year.
Ewanick sees True Zero playing an important role in easing customers’ concern over finding enough hydrogen stations. It will also play a part in easing their experience with hydrogen.
“For automakers, what they get is a reliable consumer experience,” Ewanick said. “The last thing they want to do is put these cars on the road and have an experience that reflects poorly on the brand.”
Automakers and the state of California has taken measures to support True Zero stations. Honda and Toyota have provided $13.8 million in loans to spur construction of these stations. FirstElement has also received $27.6 million in grants from the California Energy Commission and another $2 million in grants from regional air-quality management districts.
FirstElement has ambitious plans in place to roll out more hydrogen stations. Ewanick plans to raise more capital in the next 12 months, likely through an equity sale, according to Automotive News.