Shell closes its light-duty hydrogen refilling stations in California

Life’s always been tough on hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV), and it’s only getting tougher thanks to Shell announcing the closure of its retail refilling stations in California. Hydrogen Insight reported that the energy company ran seven stations for consumer FCEV owners, six of them shut down immediately because of “supply complications and other external market factors.” One light-duty retail station in Torrance remains open at the time of writing while Shell tries to find a buyer (that would be the same one, pictured above, that Autoblog editor James Riswick found to be closed due to maintenance and ongoing parts shortages).

The moves leave Shell with three hydrogen stations in operation in California, exclusively for industry and heavy-duty vehicles. Shell will continue investing in that outlet for hydrogen, allotting $1 billion per year toward heavy duty H2 as well as atmospheric carbon capture and storage. On the consumer side, the focus will be on EV charging infrastructure.

The shutdown here comes two years after Shell did the same in the UK, and follows about six months of winding things down in California. In 2020, when a kilogram of H2 cost about $13, Shell proposed building 48 new stations in the state. California offered a grant of $40.6 million as incentive. Last September, Shell killed the plan and refused the grant money. Those funds, and $8 billion to be disbursed by the U.S. Energy Department in the Hydrogen Hub plan, couldn’t overcome the difficulties in permitting for stations, high build costs, fickle machinery, and ensuring consistent supply. 

There aren’t too many drivers tooling around in hydrogen-powered vehicles in the U.S., but every new hurdle like this makes it difficult to attract more. When we covered pricing for the 2024 Toyota Mirai, we wrote that the sedan comes with $15,000 in free hydrogen, but the price of a fill-up had gone from about $65 to $200. In a written statement to Automotive News, the automaker said after the Shell closures, “Toyota recognizes that certain Mirai customers in California may experience refueling challenges due to recent closures of hydrogen stations. We will continue to work with affected Mirai customers to help identify ways to address their concerns by a case-by-case basis,” and provided an 800 number for assistance. 

Cars Direct says that anyone interested in buying a Mirai can get even better enticement. One of the purchase deals is a cash rebate of up to $30,000, the even better deal is for financing and a rebate, up to $40,000 off the price and 0$ financing for five years. These are only applicable to the Limited trim that starts at $68,210; even so, it means potentially getting a very nice sedan with a 402-mile range and free refills for about the price of a Camry, if you’re, you know, cool with the hydrogen. The deals are said to be good until March 4. 

The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership, which includes automakers Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, along with industry players, said, “While this news will cause temporary challenges, we are seeing the Hydrogen Hubs and corridors develop, new vehicles being highlighted, and additional hydrogen infrastructure advancements occur that give optimism for hydrogen mobility as a significant tool in our global decarbonization efforts.”

There are around 54 retail stations remaining in the state after Shell’s departure. However, the partnership’s list of open stations shows just 33 actually dispensing high-pressure H70 at the time of writing.

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