Toyota plans to do for fuel cells what its Prius did for hybrids: make them ubiquitous and top of mind for environmentally conscious consumers. The automaker is gearing up to introduce its hydrogen-powered sedans in California, Japan, and Europe early next year, banking that an attractive exterior and sporty design will create a market for cars that emit only water vapor. The Mirai will cost $57,000, with 3,000 to be produced for California buyers. Toyota has opened up its fuel-cell patent to the public and invested millions of dollars in helping to develop an infrastructure of hydrogen-refueling stations in California, New York, and New England, a bold move given skepticism over whether fuel cells can perform as well in colder climates.
But Toyota is used to gambling on alternative powertrains. The Prius, which debuted in Japan in 1997, didn’t become profitable until after the 2004 release of its second-generation model. Like the Prius, which uses an advanced convertor to generate more voltage for the electric motor, the Mirai also has a boost converter that raises output while cutting weight and cost. The fuel-cell vehicle also comes with an optional external power device that can power a home for up to a week in case of an emergency. “In 10 years, to be honest with you, the car you are going to drive may look very similar to what you are driving today, on the outside,” says Osamu “Simon” Nagata, CEO of Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing. Inside, it’s a different story.
- Shorter waits: A boost converter ups the car’s energy, enabling a smaller (and cheaper) motor and fuel system.
- Better entry: Toyota helped develop hydrogen-refueling stations in California, New York, and New England.
- Efficiency controls: Hydrogen is so efficient that, in an emergency, the Mirai can also power a home for up to a week.
Illustration: Chris Philpot
[Photo: courtesy of Toyota]