Toyota’s Fuel Cell Car Gets a Name and a Date

Source: Toyota
Source: Toyota

The long wait is over, as Toyota has officially announced the name and details surrounding its anticipated fuel cell vehicle. Dubbed “the Mirai,” the groundbreaking car will be able to travel up to 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen, emits only water vapor, and can refuel in less than five minutes. “Mirai,” which means “future” in Japanese, is definitely set to take the hybrid and EV market head-on when it hits American shores in 2016.

The car, seen above, has the looks and design similar to a Camry or Corolla, yet has a certain “space-age” aesthetic to it as well. The Mirai definitely represents a step forward for Toyota, a company which hasn’t been scared to take the first leap with new and groundbreaking technologies in the past, as it did with the wide-scale release of the Prius.

“Toyota’s vision of a hydrogen society is not just about building a great car, but ensuring accessible, reliable, and convenient refueling for our customers,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American CEO. “I am happy to announce that this vision will expand beyond the borders of California and give customers the opportunity to join the fuel cell movement.”

That refueling that Lentz is referring to will start out in the northeast corridor, with 12 hydrogen stations planned to be built in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Those stations will be built under a partnership with Air Liquide, a producer and supplier of natural gases. These proposed fueling stations will come in addition to the 19 that are planned for California, with help from FirstElement Fuels and funding from the California Energy Commission.

“All of us at Toyota believe in a future that will be safer, greener and easier for everyone. We believe that behind the wheel of the Mirai, we can go places we have never been, to a world that is better, in a car that is better,” says Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda in a promotional video for the Mirai.

“We believe that behind the wheel of the Mirai, we can go places we have never been, to a world that is better, in a car that is better. For us, this isn’t just another car. This is an opportunity – an opportunity to really make a difference. And making a difference is what Toyota is all about.”

Source: Toyota
Source: Toyota

In welcoming the Mirai, Toyota is adding yet another weapon to its lineup of incredibly economical vehicles. Again, the company that took hybrids mainstream with the Prius is willing to make another bet on fuel cell vehicles, whose future is much more unclear. That uncertainty stems from the fact that there are no mass-market fuel cell vehicles currently on the market, and that many consumers are just now getting comfortable with the concept of electric and hybrid cars.

But it’s hard to ignore those performance stats: 300 miles on a single tank, five-minute refueling and only water vapor for emissions. Those figures alone will likely garner Toyota some early adopters, but like EVs, it’s probably going to be a while before we know if the Mirai is a success. Since consumers will need a refueling network nearby to make owning a fuel cell car viable, only a handful of people will actually be interested. Yes, Toyota has chosen to target two of the most heavily populated areas in America (and also two of the most environmentally conscious) to give it a shot, but getting people to buy into the idea will be a challenge.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Mirai ,when it ultimately hits the market, will be pricing. Toyota will bring the Mirai to the masses with a price tag of $57,500, putting it in the same price range as many luxury cars, and likely far above what most consumers would be looking to spend. Think about it, people are probably looking to purchase the Mirai in an effort to save money on operation costs, like fuel, but with such a high barrier to entry, they could easily end up looking at other models.

Of course, the price can be dropped a bit with the addition of state and federal incentives that Bloomberg says could drop the price by as much as $13,000. Still, that puts the Mirai at a price in the mid-$40,000 range, considerably more than the Prius or the swath of other EV and hybrid vehicles on the market. Add on to that the fact that only a handful of consumers will have access to refueling stations, and Toyota could have a tough sell on their hands.

In the Mirai, Toyota is definitely taking another step forward, and it’s impressive to say the least. There are others hot on the company’s heels, however, as Honda also has a fuel cell car in the works, and more are sure to follow. Much in the same way Toyota paved the way for hybrids and EVs to become mainstream, the Mirai could do the same for the fuel cell market. The only question is, will customers jump on board?