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Shell Bids Adieu to California’s Hydrogen Dreams

Posted by John Donovan: 12 Feb 24

Oh, what’s this? Shell, the ever-so-loving caretaker of our fragile planet, has decided to throw a wrench into California’s green dreams by pulling out of the hydrogen fuel game for passenger cars. Surprise, surprise! In a move that screams “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” Shell has officially declared, “Hydrogen cars? Not our jam anymore,” in sunny California, the only place in the U.S. where driving a hydrogen car doesn’t feel like a treasure hunt.

Andrew Beard, the big shot VP of Shell Hydrogen, dropped the bombshell in a note to customers, basically saying Equilon Enterprises is ditching its “hydrogen light duty passenger fueling stations” because of “supply complications and other external market factors.” Read: “It’s just too hard, and we can’t be bothered.”

They’re also slamming the door shut on seven hydrogen stations, mostly around the San Francisco Bay Area, effectively yanking away 12% of the hydrogen sipping spots in the state. Remember those 48 new stations they promised with much hoopla, backed by a cool $40.6 million in government grants? Yeah, they canned that too.

Let’s take a moment to reminisce about 2005, when Shell, with all the pomp and circumstance, opened its first U.S. hydrogen station.

Sure, Shell ditching the hydrogen car scene isn’t exactly the apocalypse for the market. Still, it’s pretty darn close for anyone who thought hydrogen fuel cell cars were about to become the next big thing in California. Spoiler: They’re not. Reports of hydrogen fuel stations running on fumes, sporting lovely “out of fuel” signs, and making drivers play the waiting game have been the norm. And with stations mostly clinging to life around LA and San Francisco, the rest of the state might as well be a hydrogen desert.

The kicker? After nearly two decades of this hydrogen hustle, California’s streets are graced by less than 18,000 of these futuristic rides. That’s in a state with over 14 million registered vehicles. Talk about a drop in the ocean.

In the meantime, Shell has been quietly backing away from the low carbon spotlight, slashing jobs, and merging positions within its hydrogen light mobility unit. They assure us they’re still all-in on hydrogen for heavy trucks, though. Because, you know, priorities.

So, as Shell waves goodbye to hydrogen passenger cars in California, one can’t help but wonder: if a giant like Shell can’t make it work, what will the future look like for hydrogen cars? Hint: It’s not looking great. But hey, at least we’ll always have the memories of what could have been, right? Shell, doing its part for the planet, one backpedal at a time.

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