Building Awareness: The Toyota Mirai Debuts Down Under

Toyota Mirai  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

Building the case for a hydrogen energy economy is a team effort, and it demands that auto companies work to create awareness so that both governments and the public are on board and supportive.

The educational program is unfolding worldwide. According to Craig Scott, national manager for advanced technology vehicles at Toyota, “Ahead of retail sales, it’s important to create interest and awareness of hydrogen as a fuel and fuel cells as a powertrain technology option. We did the same in California for more than a decade. Many people are aware of battery electric vehicles now because of their availability globally—the same isn’t yet true for fuel-cell vehicles, which offer consumers a zero-emission vehicle option that drives and behaves like a conventional vehicle. We aim to create awareness and excitement for fuel-cell vehicles by demonstrating Mirai in new markets such as Australia.”

Building awareness is exactly what Toyota is now doing in Australia, where there’s currently no hydrogen infrastructure, but a great deal of interest in the Mirai—which is now on the road in Japan, the U.S., U.K., Germany, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.

The first Mirai came to Sydney in October of last year, as part of the World Hydrogen Technologies Convention. And Toyota Australia took delivery of three Mirais in mid-July—a portable hydrogen filling station will follow in a few months.

“We are extremely interested in fuel-cell technology, but we need the relevant infrastructure in place before we can sell these vehicles in Australia,” said Dave Buttner, president of Toyota Australia. “This will take time to develop, so it’s imperative that we take a whole-of-industry approach so that we can move these plans along as quickly as possible. Fuel cell technology is expected to play a key role in the future and we do not want Australians to miss out on this. After having a taste of the technology last October, we are incredibly excited to have not one, but three of the fuel cell vehicles back in Australia.”

Toyota Australia’s Tony Cramb, executive director of sales and marketing, said the idea of bringing in the first Mirais is to “start the conversation with some of the key stakeholders, to try to get the infrastructure in place.”

U.S.-based groups are excited, too. “Australians are about to experience the only zero-emissions vehicle that totally replicates the current driver’s experience of being able to drive 300 to 400 miles on a tank of hydrogen and refueling in just three to five minutes,” said Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. “This transformational technology should excite all Australians.”

Hyundai’s ix35 FCEV

Hyundai’s ix35 FCEV (seen here at a filling station) came to Australia in 2014—but it’s not at dealerships yet. (Hyundai photo)

Hyundai is also getting interested in Australia, and brought one of its ix35 FCEVs to the country in late 2014. The company describes the car as “the first hydrogen-powered car to be permanently imported into Australia.”

None of this is to suggest that Australia was barren of fuel-cell activity before these cars were on the scene. The Fuel Cell Institute of Australia was formed in 2003, with the express aim of fostering hydrogen education in the country.

Through the group’s work, 20 high schools and a university in Australia received model fuel-cell cars (made by enthusiast Stephen Zorbas) and educational materials. An alliance was made with Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies in Singapore.

The related Fuel Cell Vehicle Alliance, formed by Stephen Zorbas in New South Wales, wants to “assist the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell electric propulsion in most light and heavy vehicles in Australia.”

The fuel-cell car is still in its infancy in Australia, but the seeds are being sown.

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