As one of the few hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) on the market, the Toyota Mirai suffers from growing pains that first entrants typically endure. These include estimating latent consumer demand, educating consumers about its benefits, and establishing a pricing strategy with little precedent. Like electric vehicles (EVs), the Mirai faces the added challenge of limited charging infrastructure artificially compressing consumer interest. FCVs are a big gamble, but the Mirai gives Toyota a foothold in the market if it pays off. That is if the Mirai is worth buying. Still, although well-respected nonprofit Consumer Reports has yet to score the Mirai, they don’t think it’s a good choice.
What’s the difference between an EV and an FCV?
First, what exactly is an FCV, anyway, and how is one different from the EVs getting so much attention and government funding? If you’re unfamiliar with FCVs, it would be more than fair to ask these questions, especially if you’re considering a clean-energy vehicle for your next purchase.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle uses an electric motor to power its wheels. However, unlike a motor-powered EV, which runs on rechargeable batteries, FCVs are powered by the electricity created when hydrogen gas and oxygen mix in the fuel tank. This chemical reaction leaves only heat and water as byproducts rather than the greenhouse gases produced by a conventional internal combustion engine.
FCVs typically can operate for 300 to 400 miles on a single hydrogen tank. However, unlike EVs, many of which can be charged at home, there is no DIY option for FCVs. Vehicles like the Toyota Mirai require hydrogen fueling infrastructure built across the country to make them viable for mass-market consumption.
What Consumer Reports thinks about the Toyota Mirai
Given that infrastructure is an obstacle in Toyota‘s path toward greater consumer FCV adoption, the automaker is only selling the Mirai in California. The limited market already has more FCV infrastructure than any other state, but if you’re a prospective Mirai owner looking to travel cross-country, you’d be out of luck.
Given its history of air quality issues, California also has a consumer market comprised of many drivers with an above-average knowledge of clean energy vehicles. The state is also home to an upscale consumer market willing to pay the Toyota Mirai’s price premium. The Mirai starts at around $50,000 for its base model and $66,000 for its premium trim. This price point may be profitable for Toyota but is out-of-reach for many families and more than the average price of many EVs and hybrids.
The limited accessibility and price were just two things Consumer Reports did not like about the Mirai. In a recent road test report, reviewers noted that the range was less than expected, at roughly 275 miles. They also found fault with its handling, the interior layout of its controls, and its small trunk. In addition to noting the Mirai is underpowered compared to other sedans, reviewers also criticized its size. Despite its long wheelbase, the hydrogen tanks take up quite a bit of space, making for a tight interior fit. Similarly, the trunk is compressed by the hybrid battery in front and the motor underneath. In contrast, many EVs have large trunks as their batteries lie beneath the floor.
Is there a reason to buy the Mirai?
Despite its criticisms, Consumer Reports did note that the Toyota Mirai’s sleek lines and futuristic styling are pretty attractive. The site also praised its smooth handling and quiet cabin, making for a very comfortable ride. Additionally, the reviewers also enjoyed the luxurious interior styling, which were all points also praised by Car and Driver.
Knowing the FCV adoption challenges, Toyota has been trying to make the Mirai as enticing as possible to would-be consumers. To that end, they’ve offered $15,000 worth of complimentary hydrogen over the first three years to buyers or lessees. They’ve also provided three weeks of complimentary car rentals during the first three years of ownership for those needing to take trips beyond the scope of limited hydrogen fueling infrastructure.
Toyota has also been working overtime to extol the benefits of FCVs, including their clean-energy design, fuel efficiency, and charging time of mere minutes (far shorter than that of an electric vehicle). Still, despite these inducements, the Mirai remains a gamble for most prospective buyers, even in California. It may be a better bet down the road when both the automaker and the county have worked out more of the kinks of FCVs.