The new Toyota Mirai is now on sale. But sadly, not here.
Toyota’s second-generation hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai, was unveiled at last fall’s Tokyo Motor Show. Seldom have I seen an unveiling that was more breathtaking, or which more accurately foretold the future of the automobile. We weren’t allowed to drive it then.
But just last week, it officially went on sale in Japan, and Toyota’s U.S. web site is showing it as being available down there too. The U.S. price is given as $58,550.
Toyota Canada’s web site says the car will be available here in “late 2020”. It doesn’t get much more “late 2020” than this weekend; I can only assume COVID-19 must bear some of the blame for the delay.
But it is coming, although no Canadian price has been announced as of yet. Mirai means “future” in Japanese. A better name they could not have chosen. Unlike its rather ungainly first-gen sister that I have driven, the new car is gorgeous. It’s also more spacious than before.
The “stack” of fuel cells essentially converts hydrogen into electricity, which is fed into a lithium-ion battery that replaces the nickel-metal hydride unit of the previous Mirai. The only “exhaust” is water. Compared to the powertrain in the first Mirai, the new one weighs less, takes up less room, produces more power and has greater range than before, over 800 km. Diesel may finally have a competitor on that metric. And it takes no longer to fill the tank than a petroleum car.
Perhaps most important, the cost of the fuel cell stack has been cut by some 70 per cent.
Initially, Mirai will likely be used in fleets within the petro-chemical industry, where hydrogen will be more available.
For widespread use, we will have to wait for the development of a hydrogen delivery infrastructure. At the moment, there isn’t one, although there are glimmerings of progress in that area, in Japan, Germany, and even in Canada.
And what about that cost?
Professor Katsuhiko Hirose, who until last October headed Toyota’s fuel cell program, said that with improvements in fuel cell technology, and in both the production and storage of hydrogen, fuel cell cars could be price-competitive with hybrids by 2025, and maybe even cheaper than fuel-powered cars by the end of this decade.
When you consider how far gasoline/electric hybrids have come in the past 20 years, the prospects for hydrogen don’t look so daunting.