By on July 28, 2018

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]

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28 Comments on “Not Giving Up: Toyota Wants Mass-produced Mirai FCVs, Longer Range...”


  • avatar
    energetik9

    Seriously, I just had to avert my eyes. It is literally disturbing to look at.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      Whenever seeing a photo of this thing, I try to comprehend why Toyota allowed an exterior so repulsive to become reality. Just now, though, it occurred to me that they might have thought something so ugly might become endearing – in an ugly puppy kind of way – like a modern-day Citroen 2CV. ‘Guess we’ll never know.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Yes, it does look like it could eat your children

      • 0 avatar
        Trucky McTruckface

        The same could be said for essentially everything Toyota makes. For the most part, their styling is mind-bogglingly ugly. Sometimes, it’s merely bad.

        I have to assume Toyota is as clueless at styling as they are lazy at updating the engineering of anything that isn’t a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Michael500

      That’s funny, it looks like “the car of the future”- drawn by a third grader.

    • 0 avatar
      dougjp

      OMG but that’s uggggly. Whoever buys it will be the laughing stock of the neighborhood.

      • 0 avatar
        SunnyvaleCA

        Toyota’s plan is working perfectly! Make a car so ugly that people talk about that instead of all the problems of using hydrogen as a fuel storage medium.

        Here’s a basic primer: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a926/4199381/

        Basically: while the Mirai might benchmark 70 “miles per gallon equivalent” fuel economy, the “equivalent” means the energy stored in the hydrogen in the Mirai’s fuel tank is converted to miles driven at the same efficiency as the energy in a gasoline tank is converted to miles in an ICE car that gets 70 MPG. We’re basically talking Prius type efficiency here—and the Mirai uses a NMiH batter for power boost and regenerative breaking just like a Prius, too. What is NOT nearly “equivalent” is that an additional 3x or 4x more energy is used to produce the hydrogen before it even goes into the fuel tank. That’s the initial fundamental problem that needs to be solved; solve that and various kinds of hydrogen cars will be flying off the shelves (including conventional ICE modified to burn hydrogen directly). Consider the Honda Civic GX right now: it runs natural gas in a slightly modified Civic gasoline engine and is almost competitive with current technology with only modest government and company subsidy.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Other than a very limited refueling infrastructure and a hydrogen shortage, these might be viable. There was some talk years ago of having fuel cells run on gasoline. That would minimize air pollution and provide electric motor autos without large batteries. I wonder how that is going?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Available at your Lakehurst, New Jersey Toyota dealer.

  • avatar
    James2

    Hand-building 6.5 cars a day… Elon is jumping for joy, tweeting “we can do better than that!”

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    It’s disturbing to look at because it needs such a tall hood just to carry enough conversion area to offer 150 horses of peak power (not counting the microscopic battery.) That area is measured in square inches, true, but those plates and their associated hardware are large and heavy. HFC is simply too large and inefficient to work in something as small as a passenger car. In a full-sized pickup? Even a modern mid-sized truck? Yes. But not a car.

    Honestly, HFC should be in class 6 and up vehicles, where they have the size and strength to carry enough plates to generate the needed power. Anything less needs to stick to batteries.

  • avatar
    probert

    When a car is so beautiful, it could be powered by kitten tears and I’d buy it. A real looker…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The only thing worse than FCVs are Autonomous vehicles.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    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 General Motors, which launched the non-selling fuel cell vehicle, the Holt, in 2015.

    Early this year, just the 3,000th U.S. Holt found its way to the driveway of a California customer, marking a volume of just 1,000 units a year. 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, General Motors plans to enter mass production with its second-generation Holt, expected early in the coming decade.

    Why General Motors is wasting resources on this poor seller we don’t know, but two must-haves for the new model are a lower entry price and greater range.

    Speaking to Reuters, the Holt’s chief engineer 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 General Motors has a range of new FCVs under development the automaker appears to have no viable future plan.

    General Motors claims they won’t innovate much, stating, “we’re going to use as many parts from existing passenger cars and other models as possible,” providing little differentiation which won’t help sales.

    To date, only about 6,000 Holts have left General Motors Mexico based assembly plant, where they produce less than 10 cars a day. General Motors, no stranger to money-losing efforts, is estimated to be paying $11,000 for each fuel cell stack. In a FCV, hydrogen, stored under pressure, flows to the fuel cell stack, 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.

    Despite having the market to itself for three years, the Holt, which debuted back in 2015, only sold 3,000 US units. Fuel cell versions of the Hyundai Tucson and Honda Clarity now offer better competition than the smaller and less utilitarian Holt, especially the Tuscon offering a popular CUV platform for buyers. Despite the new entries, LMC Automotive predicts FCVs will only make up 0.2 percent of new vehicles sales in a decade’s time, with General Motors share most certainly going to shrink with the better offerings in the market.

    Having driven both the Clarity and Holt, it’s clear that, while revolutionary, the Holt is completely uncompetitive and doesn’t come close in terms of refinement. It was uninspiring to drive due to the low-drag tires on all four corners despite the punchy motor. Driving the Holt is like driving a 1970s malaise sled in a car chase, with an intrusive whine replacing the sound of eight roaring cylinders.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I like Hypnotoad’s characterization here. Had GM released a stinker like this, there would be another round of outcry that we bailed them out only to produce tone-deaf products that few want.

      While Toyota is flush with cash and frankly they can do whatever they want with that cash, please don’t tell us chicken sh!t is chicken soup. Others have mentioned that there are other FCVs that are a bit more usable.

      They’ve wandered down this rabbit hole of marketing excess, trying to push an unpopular car under the aura of “the car of the future”. Hyundai/Kia has the right idea in using a SUV/CUV body, but are following the Japanese makers down that same rabbit hole…

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Why would Toyota make the hydrogen car so damn boring and small. Literally theirs no benefit to making it look like that. GM had no trouble sticking a Hydrogen tank on an H2, adding a turbocharger to make up for the decreased power output and running the hell out of the truck. Toyota would have gotten a lot further to take one of their interesting vehicles and make it hydrogen powered.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    If hydrogen is an energy storage medium, with it’s near-universality, is a great fuel. However, Mother Nature in all of her ironic wisdom, has made it one of the hardest to harness. There’s no real mystery to converting the fuel to energy and there’s no mystery to handling the fuel.

    But what real advantage do Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have over petro- and electric-fueled vehicles? Both already have extensive “fuel” distribution networks worldwide. It seems to me that these are just engineering or greenwashing “p!ss!ng” contests.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      I view Toyota’s Hydrogen project more charitably. They are going for a solution that could offer the same refuel time and energy density that car owners have become accustomed to and that’s a reasonable goal.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        If we’re looking for a replacement fuel, we could substitute an alcohol-based solution. Yes, it would require some changes, but Butanol for example could be distributed the same way as petroleum motor fuels are now.

        Along the same lines, we could convert many vehicles to CNG or synthesize fuels from natural gas. IIRC, there are/were FCVs that can run on natural gas. GM built one about 10 or so years ago using the chassis and body of the then-current Chevy Equinox. This idea appeals to me as we have plenty of domestic access to natural gas and we have plenty of experience handling it.

        Why bother with hydrogen? I can’t imagine a scenario in which we’ll obtain it entirely free of cost. I believe the dangers of handling (or mis-handling) hydrogen outweigh any supposed benefits we would get from using it as fuel.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    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.”

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Did Toyota hire Mitsuoka to style it?

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