While proponents contend fuel-cell vehicles are as clean as those running on batteries, potential buyers have remained highly skeptical – but Toyota hopes to build momentum with the launch of its second-generation Mirai hydrogen car.
As with the original model that debuted in 2014, sales largely will be limited to a few markets where hydrogen is available, but Toyota is betting it can boost the appeal of the 2021 Mirai by increasing its range roughly a third, while cutting its price 20 percent.
While several other manufacturers, notably Honda and Hyundai, now have hydrogen-powered vehicles on the market, Toyota is one of the biggest proponents of the technology, recently announcing a program with Hino to build heavy-duty fuel-cell trucks for use at the smog-choked ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and other locations.
“The use of hydrogen is going to be an important factor in achieving carbon neutrality,” said Yoshikazu Tanaka, the chief engineer on the Mirai project.
While it was an early pioneer of electrification, with hybrids like the Prius, Toyota has long been skeptical of pure battery-electric vehicles. The automaker confirmed this week that it will bring a BEV crossover-utility vehicle to Europe next year, and follow with one for the States, company planners would prefer to wait until next-generation technology, such as solid-state batteries, are available before making a big push.
In the meantime, the Japanese giant will continue to focus on hybrids – both conventional and plug-in – and fuel-cell vehicles.
The second-generation Mirai officially went on sale in Japan on Wednesday. It will follow shortly in the U.S. and other markets.
In Japan, it will maintain roughly its current price, but the automaker has indicated it will cut the number about 20% in the U.S., where the outgoing, 2020 Toyota Mirai starts at $59,545.
The figure likely to be even more appealing is the roughly 30% increase in the 2021 Mirai’s estimated range, which will jump to 800 kilometers, or 500 miles, in Japan. Using stricter EPA testing, American buyers will get about 400 miles on a tankful of the lightweight gas.
One of the advantages of a fuel-cell vehicle, or FCV, is the fact that it can refill its tank in about five minutes, a fraction of the time needed to charge a battery car of similar range – and on a par with what it takes to refill a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle.
The downside is the fact that there are less than 100 stations across the U.S. where Mirai owners can fill up, the majority of them in California – though that state has laid out plants to expand availability in the next few years. Japan and some European countries, notably Germany, also plan to expand their distribution systems.
The 2020 Mirai was only sold in California and Hawaii, due to fuel supply limitations. Toyota hasn’t confirmed whether it will expand availability with the 2021 fuel-cell vehicle.
The 2021 Toyota Mirai strays from the Jetsons-like design of the original. Toyota is moving away from the strategy pioneered with the original Prius, sharply distinguishing its green machines with styling that often bordered on goofy. The new FCV visually fits more easily into the overall Toyota line-up.
Under the skin, it makes use of Toyota’s mew GA-L platform. It measures 2.8 inches wider and sits 2.6 inches lower than the outgoing model, giving it a more sporty look and feel. The drivetrain, meanwhile, now punches power out through the rear, rather than front, wheels.
The fuel-cell stack, where hydrogen is combined with oxygen from the atmosphere, produces 128 kilowatts, up from the 2020 model’s 114 kW output. That energy drives a single electric motor itself pumping out 180 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That should make it slightly quicker than the old car which could hit 60 in around nine seconds.
Inside, the 2021 Toyota Mirai also gets a heavy makeover, “raising the bar for standard technology” with features like a standard 12.3-inch touchscreen for its infotainment system and a 14-speaker JBL sound system. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as built-in Amazon Alexa compatibility. The gauge cluster, meanwhile, is an 8-inch TFT display. The new Mirai also adds the latest Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ suite of advanced driver assistance systems.
Toyota never promised to sell many of its first-generation Mirais, capacity limited to just 3,000 annually. In fact, global sales came to a mere 11,100 since the first-gen FCV was unveiled at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show. But Toyota is betting the second-generation model, backed by a slowly growing network of hydrogen pumps in Japan, Europe and the U.S., should have significantly more appeal. It is boosting production capacity to 30,000 annually with the arrival of the 2021 model.