Toyota unleashes fuel cell vehicle named “Mirai”

Toyota Mirai Press Briefing Tokyo - 13 - Picture Bertel Schmitt

Many decades after starting work on fuel cell technologies, Toyota launched the world’s first commercially available fuel cell vehicle today at an event in Tokyo. The car is called “Mirai,” which is Japanese for “future.” Fittingly, the event was held at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, known to natives as the “Miraikan” (= Hall of the Future”). Japanese car launches usually are a low key affair. This time, Toyota laid on a flashy show with huge holographic imagery. Officially on sale from December 15, 2014, the Mirai will retail in Japan for JPY 7,236,000 (USD 62,000) including consumption tax. Government subsidies can bring down the price to JPY 4,236,000 (USD 36,000) in some areas of Japan.

Toyota Mirai Press Briefing Tokyo - 15 - Picture Bertel Schmitt

The Japanese government has thrown its full weight behind a roadmap to turn the country into a “hydrogen society,” including plans to build the approximately one dozen hydrogen stations currently in Japan into a network of about 100 by the first quarter of 2016. Subsidies for hydrogen fuel are said to bring the cost of driving a fuel cell vehicle to parity with conventional gasoline.

Toyota Mirai Press Briefing Tokyo - 20 - Picture Bertel Schmitt

The four-seater Mirai draws its 114 kW (155 PS) power from a proprietary fuel cell stack. The stack is fed from two high-pressure tanks made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). One of the tanks is small enough to fit under the rear seat. The fuel cell stack itself is located under the front seats, which takes away a small amount of rear legroom, as a reporter of Germany’s Handelsblatt complained at today’s event.

The torquey electric motor is rated at 335 N-m (34.2 kgf-m), which, combined with the car’s low center of gravity, delivers sporty driving characteristics usually not found in a green vehicle. The car will be available for test drives tomorrow, and we plan to bring you our first impressions.

Toyota Mirai Press Briefing Tokyo - 09 - Picture Bertel Schmitt

Toyota already has 200 pre-orders on the books, mostly from government and commercial customers, as Toyota’s EVP Mitsuhisa Kato conceded today in Tokyo. Japanese customers will have to wait until summer of 2015, before the first Mirai, made at Toyota’s Motomachi plant, will be delivered.

Toyota will start small, planning to sell approximately 400 in the first year. Toyota expects to sell ‘tens of thousands” of FCV s by 2020, reporters were told today in Tokyo.

U.S. sales of the Mirai will start in summer of 2015, full-fledged sales are expected to begin in 2016. In the U.S., Toyota will ask $57,500 (excl tax) for the Mirai. Federal and state incentives could reduce the price by as much as $13,000. Overseas, Toyota aims to sell “a few thousand” Mirai by 2017.

Toyota says that fuel cell vehicles, not battery-powered EVs, are the wave of the future, because Toyota’s system provides “a cruising range of 650 km” (according to Japan’s generous JC08 test cycle) “and a hydrogen refueling time of about three minutes,” easily beating the range-constrained EVs that can take hours to recharge. The Mirai turns ambient air and on-board hydrogen into electrical power, producing no tailpipe gases. The only emissions are harmless water, and even the water can be kept in an on-board reservoir for a while, for instance if the driver does not want to leave wet spots in a garage.