Mary Nichols Shares the Joys of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ride

The head of the Air Resources Board on her beloved Mirai
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I met up with Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, at the same place that she likes to take her 1½ year old grandson every Sunday… a gas station in West Los Angeles.

He loves to watch his grandma fuel up her brand new Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and Nichols loves that she doesn’t have to expose her grandson to noxious gasoline odors. During our interview we hovered between the dispenser and the Mirai, gawking at technology that countless engineers have seamlessly integrated to create normaldriving and fueling experiences. It took a couple of minutes before I noticed an unusual traffic jam as a Mercedes F-Cell waited patiently to fuel up behind us. Nichols told me that was the first time that had happened to her, but she’s sure it won’t be the last.

Nichols, one of our state government’s most prominent environmental leaders, has been named as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world for being a fierce champion of the cutting-edge technology and environmental regulations that have now been adopted by California, the U.S. and beyond.

As head of Energy Independence Now, the only nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the FCEV marketplace, I was eager to get Nichols’s impressions of the Mirai and the new hydrogen fueling stations popping up across California. For more than a decade, EIN has been one of California’s leading advocates and architects of the state’s Hydrogen Highway and we’re committed to ensuring that FCEVs play a leading role in California’s zero emission vehicle future. I usually have to travel to Sacramento from my home in L.A. for meetings like this one, but today I was delighted that I only had to travel about 4 miles to meet Nichols at one of the state’s newest hydrogen fueling stations. —Brian Goldstein

L.A. Driver: What made you want to purchase a fuel cell vehicle?
Nichols: Someone told me I should put my money where my mouth is. This isn’t my first clean vehicle, as I also own a Honda FIT electric vehicle that I love. But it is certainly the most luxurious car I’ve ever owned. I really appreciate the sense of comfort I feel when I drive the car, the impressive safety features and I really love the color — maritime blue. That makes me happy.

What is it like to drive the Mirai?
It’s fun. I’m consistently getting 300 miles or more every time I refuel. There’s a great electronic dashboard that gives me all kinds of information about how I’m driving, including tailored feedback to encourage driving habits that will optimize fuel efficiency. I must say I never really thought of myself as having a lead foot, but when I first started driving the Mirai, I would get an efficiency score of just 19 or 20. But with some basic adjustments to my driving habits, now I regularly get scores of 50 or 60.

What’s it like fueling up the Mirai?
The first time I tried it on my own, I have to admit that I had a little difficulty. Even though I was trained the first time I fueled up, I guess I wasn’t paying full attention, so when I returned on my own, I had to call the toll-free number listed on the dispenser. They can monitor the station in real time and the operator was able to detect that I hadn’t properly sealed the nozzle. They talked me through what I needed to do and a few minutes later, I was all fueled up.

Who trained you to fuel the vehicle and was that part of the purchasing experience? I can’t say enough good things about my salesman Eddie Fuentes (with LAcarGUY’s Toyota of Santa Monica). Toyota is so dedicated to these vehicles and they’re determined to make this a success. They’ve done an amazing job of training their sales staff to understand and promote FCEV technology. Unlike many of my other experiences with car dealers, Eddie continues to follow up with me to make sure that my Mirai experience, which includes free fuel, is positive.

Why would you recommend someone consider buying a fuel cell vehicle?
As you can imagine, I’m a fan of all zero emission vehicles. While many electric vehicles are great for most driving needs — and they’re getting more affordable and better range all the time — sometimes you need a vehicle that has more range. Occasionally I have to travel to El Monte or Riverside and it’s perfect for that. I would caution any prospective drivers that there are only a few local fueling stations open right now, but by the end of the year there will be close to 50 stations operating. I’m thinking about testing out the fueling network by driving my Mirai to Sacramento.

Editor’s Note: There are now two hydrogen fueling stations operating in the West Los Angeles area — one at 11261 Santa Monica Blvd. (right near the 405 and Sawtelle Blvd.) and one at 1819 Cloverfield Blvd. right off the 10 in Santa Monica. For more information on fuel cell vehicles, visit einow.org.

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