Not Giving Up: Toyota Wants Mass-produced Mirai FCVs, Longer Range

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Despite it being the most abundant element in the world — but one of the hardest fuels to source — automakers aren’t giving up on hydrogen. That group includes Toyota, which launched the world’s best-selling hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, in 2015.

Early this year, the 3,000th U.S. Mirai found its way to the driveway of a California customer. Cali remains the only American jurisdiction where FCV vehicles, and refueling infrastructure, are offered (though a hydrogen shortage last week saw SoCal stations dry up).

In the hopes of boosting the fuel’s prevalence and stimulating demand, Toyota plans to enter mass production with its second-generation Mirai, expected early in the coming decade.

Two must-haves for the new model are a lower entry price and greater range.

Speaking to Reuters, the Mirai’s chief engineer, Yoshikazu Tanaka, said, “We’re going to shift from limited production to mass production, reduce the amount of expensive materials like platinum used in FCV components, and make the system more compact and powerful.”

While a source claims Toyota has a range of new FCVs under development for a range of markets (including pickups, SUVs, and transport trucks), the automaker remains vague on its future plans. There’ll definitely be additional vehicles to bolster the new Mirai, that’s for sure.

“We’re going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible in fuel cell trucks,” said Ikuo Ota, Toyota’s manager of new business planning for fuel cell projects. “Otherwise, we won’t see the benefits of mass production.”

The automaker hopes to increase the next-gen Mirai’s range from roughly 310 miles to around 450 miles.

To date, only about 6,000 Mirais have left Toyota’s Toyota City assembly plant. There, workers hand-assemble the hydrogen-powered sedans, building a maximum of 6.5 cars a day. They’re pricey, with Strategic Analysis Inc. claiming each fuel cell stack costs $11,000. In a FCV, hydrogen, stored under pressure, flows to the fuel cell strack, where a chemical reaction generates an electric current to power a conventional electric drive motor. The only byproduct of the reaction is hot water, which can be manually discharged via a small flap below the car’s rear bumper.

The Mirai had the market to itself when it debuted back in 2015, but fuel cell versions of the Hyundai Tucson and Honda Clarity now offer competition in the vanishingly small market. Despite the new entries, LMC Automotive predicts FCVs will only make up 0.2 percent of new vehicles sales in a decade’s time.

Having driven both the Clarity and Mirai, it’s clear that, while revolutionary, the Mirai has some catching up to do in terms of refinement. It’s still a blast to drive, however. With low-drag tires on all four corners and a punchy motor, driving a Mirai is like starring in your own 1970s car chase, only with a slightly intrusive whine replacing the sound of eight roaring cylinders.

[Image: Toyota]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • FWD Donuts FWD Donuts on Jul 29, 2018

    Living in California, I'm subjected to the sight of these hideous things from time to time. I don't get it. Why do automobile manufacturers, with the exception of Tesla, have to make every car with an alternative drivetrain look so stupid? If I was a kid and had a Hot Wheel that looked like this, it'd be beaten flat with a hammer in 10 minutes. Seriously. Bolt? Stupid looking. Clarify. Stupid looking. Murai. Stupid looking. It's as if their research says "the only people who will buy these don't have any friends."

  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Jul 30, 2018

    Did Toyota hire Mitsuoka to style it?

  • Tassos Jong-iL Mr. Healey, honesty is key and there have been several accusations about your biases towards different brands. We hope you can prove these badactors wrong and show us the proper way.
  • Redapple2 37% USA Canada content. This should pass you off ! THIRTY SEVEN.
  • Theflyersfan I guess I should have kept my first ever car which was also a 1987 Nissan. Probably could have sold it for $50,000 by now if I was living in this fantasy world where used up 37 year old Nissans sell for the same price as a new Versa. I wish a link was here so all of us can check out this treasure among junk 200SX. The only way this car is even remotely worth that kind of money is if there are illicit substances hidden somewhere in the frame that, as part of the sale, you have to drive across the border and "make a delivery." Otherwise, get that thing off of my lawn.
  • Sobro Needs moar Roots.
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