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