A hands-on look at the 2021 fuel-cell Toyota Mirai

This is how the new Mirai will look until the morning of October 23 – (c) Bertel Schmitt


Rumors have been going around for quite a while that Toyota will introduce its new-model hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show. The show won’t open its doors until October 23, but yesterday I was given the opportunity to chance a look at Toyota’s new zero-emission model, under the condition that I won’t leave any scratches on a virgin car that will be needed on October 23, and in an act against humanity, I was asked to keep my mouth shut until 5 in the morning, Tokyo time. Both promises were kept, so here it goes.

First of all, Toyota’s new-model hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai will not be introduced at the upcoming show. What will be shown is the “Mirai Concept,” something Toyota calls “a final-stage development model of the second-generation Mirai.” According to Mirai’s Chief Engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka, the real for-sale model should be expected by around the end of the coming year, meaning that if I go to my Toyota dealer in early 2021, they probably will take my order.

And this is how the new Mirai looks for readers of the Dailykanban. – (c) Bertel Schmitt

Assuming that the measurements won’t have changed once the 2nd-gen Mirai has its coming-out, you will get a very grown-up Mirai. It will be 85 millimeter longer, it will have 140 mm more wheelbase, and it will be 65 millimeters lower than the current model. If this conjures-up images of a sleeker, sportier, more powerful Mirai, then you conjure in the right direction.

Everything of the new Mirai will be completely new. It will sit on a completely new platform using the best parts of Toyota’s TNGA modular architecture. It will have a completely new fuel cell stack, promising a 30% increase of range. The current Mirai has an EPA range of 312 miles, so you can expect a full hydrogen tank of the new one to last you 400+ miles. When it finally reaches the end of its range, the Mirai won’t hang on a charger for hours. In 3 minutes or thereabouts, the Mirai will be good for another 400 miles. You won’t be, so take a break.

But what about torque and acceleration? The previous Mirai was developed when customers swore in focus groups that all they are interested in is sustainability, polar bears, and bean sprouts, but as we all know by now, they lied through their teeth, and they get excited by Nürburgring lap times and fighter jet-like g-forces. I tried my best to tease torque and acceleration out of Toyota, but all they fed me was “handling is light and easy on winding roads, while highway driving produces an exceptional sense of power at all speeds.” Asked for hard data, they demurred, politely as usual.

When the new Mirai hits the showrooms in early 2021, Toyota will have finished a new factory across the road from its Toyota City HQ. It will be able to crank out 30,000 fuel cell stacks per year. An equal number of hydrogen tank sets will be produced in a new facility going up in Toyota’s nearby Shimoyama plant. This will allow a more than tenfold increase of Toyota’s FCV production capacity. Last year, Toyota sold all but 2,450 Mirai worldwide, and more than two thirds of that went to America, and especially the western side of America, where the car earns critical ZEV credits.

At the same time, Toyota sold all the Mirai it can currently make. The car is made in a tiny corner of Toyota’s huge Motomachi plant, in the same place and with the same methods as the Lexus LFA supercar of old, of which they made a few hundred. The Mirai is made by hand, by a small team that assembles some 10 cars per day. A modern production line could do that in 10 minutes.

A peek inside

Neither the old nor the new Mirai were made to break production records. Two years before the Mirai went on sale, I talked to its then chief engineer, Satoshi Ogiso, and he told me that sometime in the next decade, there may be a few ten thousands on the roads. I laughed and thought it was the typical Japanese low-balling, but he was right. They reached the 10,000 mark just two months ago. Somewhere in the next decade, they will get to those few ten thousands.

Who knows, there may be a few more, Toyota likes to under-promise and over-deliver. Around the world, hydrogen suddenly makes headlines. China famously changed its policy from pushing and subsidizing battery-electric vehicles to pushing and subsidizing FCVs. In Europe, Germany and neighboring Netherlands just entered a hydrogen-alliance, with “the aim to develop a common European hydrogen directive.” Yesterday, Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier said his government must “set the course so that Germany becomes the No. 1 in the world in hydrogen technologies.” Up to now, this was the goal of Japan, which wants to change the country into a hydrogen society, but I’m sure Japan won’t object if the doitsu will assume a little leadership.

Among the growing ranks of governmental hydrogen-fans, the planning goes far beyond equipping cars with fuel cells stack instead of batteries, or internal combustion engines. Cars account for only a slice of the world’s CO2 output. The ship that brings Tesla cars from America to Europe probably spits out more CO2 during the trip than what its cars will ever save. Trucks, buses, trains, ships and planes are waiting to have their CO2-generators removed.

Hydrogen is the much better, and in many cases the only viable solution here. Most of all, countries that have seriously invested into renewable, or free energies, such as wind and solar, see hydrogen as the solution to a perplexing problem: A glut of green power. Nature has a total disregard for how and when we use electricity. How often are we driving by huge windmills that don’t turn? They don’t turn for one of two reasons. Either they are broken, or, much more likely, their electricity is not needed at the moment. There is a lot of wasteful excess renewable energy, and using hydrogen, the excess energy can be kept for a rainy day. According to the International Energy Agency IEA, hydrogen is best for long-term carbon-free seasonal storage of renewable energy.

At the same time, hydrogen can turn poor countries that have little more than lots of sunshine into major energy producers, says a study of the IEA. Sure, you could plaster the deserts with solar arrays, but how will you get the electricity to where it is needed? With hydrogen, electricity can be pumped through pipelines, and shipped with (hopefully hydrogen-powered) tankers.

Climate change creates the most havoc in regions like the Sahel. Too much sun. Not enough water. Too much violence. Instead of sending handouts there, or our troops, we can buy their hydrogen.

Now a few backward people (usually with an interest in batteries) will still tell you that hydrogen is a bad idea. Just tell them that hydrogen, being 75% of our sun, is what’s keeping the lights on in life, that in our bodies are more hydrogen atoms than any other type of element, and that hydrogen is the numero uno element on the periodic table.

Try that with a battery.

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