Even with $8,000 tax credit extended, fuel-cell lease prices won’t change, automakers say

An $8,000 federal tax credit on qualifying hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicles has been extended through January 2022 though the latest economic stimulus bill passed by the U.S. Congress. The bill awaits signature by the outgoing President.

The tax credit, called the Fuel Cell Motor Vehicle Tax Credit, had been due to expire at the end of the month. It dates back to the George W. Bush administration and has been extended several times. It actually expired on December 31, 2017, but it was retroactively extended through December 31, 2020. 

That, combined with the $4,500 rebate through the California CVRP, a program administered by CARB, helps ease the string of otherwise high sticker prices of the three fuel-cell passenger vehicles currently offered in the U.S.: the Hyundai Nexo, Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, and Toyota Mirai.

2020 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

2020 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Surprisingly, automakers that primarily lease fuel-cell models weren't concerned that the demise of the tax credit would affect fuel-cell vehicle availability or lease costs in the near term. The vehicles already carry stickers that price in the uncertainty of hydrogen-fuel-cell tax credits.

“Because of the uncertainty with EV tax credits over the years, we have set our lease pricing at a level that reflects demand without consideration of the credit,” explained Honda spokesperson Chris Martin. “Since we only lease the Clarity Fuel Cell, it’s less of an issue for Honda than it would be if we were selling the vehicles, in which situation, the buyer may be motivated by the credit.”

Deliveries of the latest 2021 Toyota Mirai are starting this month. However, Toyota explained that the timing for the Mirai is coincidental—that it simply directly follows its rollout in Japan, and that wasn’t related to the possible expiration of the tax credit at the end of the month. 

“Many factors are involved when setting the lease payment for any of our vehicles,” explained Toyota’s Ed Hellwig. “With the launch of the new model Mirai, the expiration of the credit will not affect the lease price in the near term.”

The price of the 2021 Mirai starts much lower than the previous model, at $50,455, and Toyota and others have been wrapping hydrogen costs into the leases. The 2019 Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, with base prices of $59,430 and $59,345, were both leasing at $399 per month—with the vast majority of them leased—and the Clarity Fuel Cell was leas-only at $379 a month. 

2021 Hyundai Nexo

2021 Hyundai Nexo

All three models remain offered only in California, where there’s just enough of a network for the limited number of fuel-cell drivers to fuel up—when they don’t face an outage. 

A group of lawmakers last year, with bipartisan support, aimed to extend the federal EV tax credit by an additional 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer—to a total of 600,000—as well as extend the hydrogen fuel-cell credit through 2028. Attached to a federal spending bill late last year, it was reportedly blocked by “extreme resistance” from the Trump administration.

“Once the new direction is confirmed or changes, we’ll work quickly to adapt to market demands as necessary,” said Hyundai spokesperson Derek Joyce, who explained that this will depend on the market, government direction, and consumer research. 

While the Biden administration could bring support for an extended EV tax credit—albeit likely including an income cap—it’s unclear whether the fuel-cell tax credit will be given new life beyond the additional year of extension, now effective through December 31, 2021. 

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