The world’s first mass-market hydrogen car, one that will be available in California later this year, and eventually all 50 states, will have a driving range of about 312 miles before requiring a fill-up. To sweeten the deal on its Mirai — and perhaps lessen the sting of its nose-bleed $57,000 price tag — Toyota is also throwing in three years or $15,000 worth of free hydrogen into the pot.
That puts the Mirai near the top of the heap of electrically-powered cars, topping the Tesla 85D’s 270 miles. Plug-in hybrids will handily trump the Mirai’s driving range, but the Toyota doesn’t require gasoline — just hydrogen, which it takes in in a process very similar to filling a conventional car with regular unleaded.
That’s perhaps the biggest asset hydrogen cars like the Mirai have over cars like the Tesla Model S. Battery-electric plug-ins require time to recharge, but hydrogen vehicles can simply fill up and continue on, provided that there’s an ample network of refueling stations. The fuel cells within the car then convert the hydrogen into electricity, and from there, it functions like a standard electric vehicle.
Toyota was keen to point out that the Mirai is the only zero emission electric vehicle on the market that tops the 300 mile range milestone. However, this comes at the relative detriment of efficiency; the Mirai manages 67 miles per gallon equivalent, well shy of the 101 combined for the Tesla 70D, the VW e-Golf’s 116, and the Nissan Leaf’s 114.
That will likely be less of an issue than the car’s looks, though. Toyota went with a strikingly bold design for the Mirai, a look that might hamstring its sales in some regions and spur them in others. Unlike the first generation Prius, which resembled a low-key, easily-blended sedan, the Mirai makes no apologies for its brash and polarizing look. That could spell trouble for the kind of widespread sales that Toyota is hoping to see.
Chances are it won’t immediately find success like the Prius did in the late ’90s and early aughts due to its price tag, but that doesn’t mean Toyota doesn’t have the highest of hopes for this car. “Toyota realized in the early ’90s that electrification was key to the future of the automobile,” said Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz. “Just as the Prius introduced hybrid-electric vehicles to millions of customers nearly twenty years ago, the Mirai is now poised to usher in a new era of efficient, hydrogen transportation.”
What cannot be ignored, however, is how affordable hydrogen fuel tech is now, relative to where it was when Toyota first started playing with the idea in the early 2000s. The initial hydrogen prototypes that Toyota built cost in the neighborhood of $1 million wholesale — the fact that, about 15 years later, the same company can offer a car to the public for less than $60,000 is just shy of incredible, especially given that there hasn’t been the same kind of technological uptake like there has been with battery electric vehicles or solar panels.
Like the early Teslas, the Mirai’s greatest challenge will be contending with America’s substantial lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Toyota has committed to building out the network on its own, but without widespread industry interest (save for a few exceptions), it will take a long, long time for the Mirai to become a bona-fide fossil-fuel fighter.