Toyota is to sell what’s being called the first mass-market fuel-cell car. But it’s very much a luxury product for now and won’t be dominating the highways any time soon.
The model is called Mirai, which translates literally as “the future” but has a meaning that might more accurately be conveyed as “the distant future” or “the world to come.”
The car uses hydrogen as a fuel source. It mixes the hydrogen with oxygen to produce the energy to power the car, with the only by-product being water vapor. It’s not completely without environmental effects however, as the production and compression of the hydrogen to produce the refills uses fossil fuels.
Toyota says the Mirai can travel up to 400 miles between refuelling, which takes a matter of minutes, compared with around half an hour for electric cars.
The car will initially go on sale in Japan, where Toyota expects just 400 sales next year. In the long term it’s looking at a worldwide release, with forecasts of 3,000 US sales in 2017.
The base price will be hefty at the equivalent of US$62,000, though Japanese government subsidies will give early buyers a 30 percent discount. Toyota plans to bring that down as it ups production volume, though it may be many years before it is even comparable with the up-front cost of a gasoline-powered vehicle.
Toyota also plans to offer the vehicle for lease with a $3,649 up-front payment and then $499 a month. That will include free hydrogen refills for the first three years
With only two refueling stations currently available in Japan, Toyota is also splashing out on constructing stations, with a target of 100 worldwide by the end of next year, though there are some serious questions about the economic viability of that plan
It’s also launching a dedicated smartphone app that tells drivers how much hydrogen they have left and suggests suitable refuelling stations.