Toyota Begins Sale of First Hydrogen-Powered CarsToyota has announced that it is to sell its first production model hydrogen fuel cell car, the Mirai, from December 15 2014.
The car will be sold first in Japan and then in the US and Europe. Initially at least, numbers will be small. Toyota says that it aims to sell just 400 models in its home Japanese market and 300 in the rest of the world in the first year of Mirai production. The Mirai will retail for around $57,600 before tax.
Fuel cell cars use compressed hydrogen gas to produce electricity from a chemical reaction in a cell. The only exhaust emission is water, although fossil fuels are used in the production of the hydrogen gas and the pressurisation of the tanks. Hydrogen fuel cell cars have significant advantages over the current crop of electric vehicles. They can be refuelled, for example, in much the same time as a petrol car, as opposed to the several hours it can take to recharge an electric car. They also have a range of several hundred miles, unlike electric cars, which have a limited range of 100 miles or so.
Hyundai and Honda are also developing hydrogen fuel cell cars and are planning to sell them in limited numbers. The main obstacle to the success of the cars, high price tags aside, is the absence of a refuelling network. To date, only a few dozen hydrogen refuelling stations have been built across the globe. This, however, is changing. The state of California has committed to building 200 such stations, and Japan will construct 1,000 over the next few years. Other countries have plans to follow suit.
It could be a long road for the Mirai and other hydrogen fuel cell cars. The future depends on the manufacturers finding ways of getting the costs down, while customers must be certain that they have access to a sufficient number of filling stations. It is a classic chicken and egg situation, and Toyota has said that it expects it to take perhaps 20 years before the Mirai starts selling in the tens of thousands of units per year bracket. Toyota is determined to force the issue, however, by producing enough cars to provide a market for a hydrogen refuelling network.
The company has experience in such breakthroughs. With the Prius, they produced the first volume hybrid car. Initially derided, it soon sold in big numbers and was responsible for creating a whole new sector. Toyota now intends to drive the acceptance of hydrogen fuel cell cars in much the same way, although the company admits that it is an even greater challenge due to the absence of the refuelling network.
Initial sales of the car will therefore be limited to those areas that have access to hydrogen filling stations. There are currently around 30 in Japan, mostly clustered around the cities of Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo. The cars will therefore be used primarily for urban motoring in these areas. California will be another market, as will Germany and the UK, as these countries are the first in Europe to develop a hydrogen delivery infrastructure.
The first customers for hydrogen fuel cell cars are predicted to be the sort of educated and affluent people who want to reduce their carbon footprint. It is thought that some sales will also be to government departments and companies that are keen to lead the way and show their green credentials.
The first Mirai model will be able to run for up to 435 miles on its two pressurised tanks of hydrogen. Initially, it may prove to be a more expensive fuel than petrol or diesel, but as the number of customers grows and economies of scale are realised, the price will fall. Industry experts say that hydrogen could be a cheaper fuel than petrol or diesel in the longer term. It certainly has the potential to be. Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is plentiful. It is the most abundant element in the universe and can be considered to be infinite in supply.
Posted by Edwin Miles on