The Toyota Mirai: Fuel-Cell Flair, and a Company’s Big Commitment

Cars, Toyota Mirai  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA—Toyota is making a huge commitment to hydrogen with the Mirai fuel-cell car, which it calls “a turning point in the future of transportation.”

Toyota hasn’t embraced the battery electric vehicle; instead, it’s placing its bets on hybrids, plug-in hybrids and fuel cells. Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada commented, “The reason why Toyota doesn’t introduce any major [pure electric vehicle] is because we do not believe there is a market to accept it.”

toyota mirai refueling

Refueling the Mirai is a five-minute proposition. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Mirai, shown to the press in November of 2014, will be rolled out cautiously, considering that the infrastructure is still under construction (with 10 stations open in California, and 49 in development). Only 200 of the cars will be offered in 2015, and 3,000 total in 2016 and 2017. Most are likely to be sold in California (for $57,500, or a 36-month lease at $499 a month) but Toyota is also investing in the Northeast, with an Air Liquide partnership that will put 12 stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island by 2016.

Toyota’s rollout in the Northeast is accompanied by upbeat projections about the region as a fuel-cell hotbed. According to plans from eight states in the Northeast Electrochemical Energy Storage Cluster (NEESC) by approximately 2025 there will be more than 10,000 fuel-cell vehicles and 110 stations in the region. When the local infrastructure in, say, Boston and Bridgeport, starts to bloom Mirai sales there will start to make sense.

The Mirai sedan weighs 4,000 pounds (a thousand more than a standard Prius) and it certainly isn’t a sports car. But it can reach 60 mph in nine seconds and feels spirited in around-town California driving. Range is 300 miles, and refueling times about five minutes.

toyota mirai interior

Inside the Toyota Mirai. Notice the Prius-like shifter. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Mirai is a bold step for the company, with a lot of in-house innovation underneath its controversial styling (Car and Driver says it looks “almost French”). The compact fuel-cell stack was developed by Toyota itself and has a 100-kilowatt output. The twin carbon fiber hydrogen tanks (which weigh 193 pounds together) are also Toyota designs.

Many of the hybrid components, including the electric motor, battery pack and power control unit, are shared with Toyota’s hybrid cars. The traction motor (also seen in the Lexus RX 450h hybrid) develops 153 horsepower, with 247 pound feet of torque. The 1.6-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal hydride battery pack is a close relative to the unit in the Camry Hybrid.

There’s 27 percent more power than the previous Toyota fuel-cell car, the 2008 Highlander FCV-adv, and also double the power density. More important for making the Mirai a viable commercial proposition, it build cost is only five percent of the previous car’s.

There is regenerative braking, of course, and such safety aids as lane keep assist, pre-collision, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking assist sonar. The Mirai comes loaded, with luxury features such as heated seats (including for rear passengers), a premium JBL audio system with touch controls, heated outside motors and LED headlamps.

toyota mirai port

This CHAdeMO port in the Mirai’s trunk can turn your fuel-cell car into a portable generator. (Jim Motavalli photo)

A cool feature is tucked away in the trunk: a CHAdeMO port that’s there to turn your hydrogen car into the equivalent of a high-power generator. Yes, the Mirai can run your home during blackouts, provided you don’t turn on every light and run every appliance. Toyota is developing a portable inverter that will connect to the CHAdeMO port and offer a number of 110-volt outlets.

On the Road

Ten years ago, fuel-cell cars were delicate, noisy and required an engineer in the passenger seat. Today, all that’s gone and manufacturers have fulfilled their promise to make them as much like regular consumer vehicles as possible. The Mirai, then, is very quiet but for a bit of compressor noise and a faint soundtrack from the cell stack.

The Mirai is not a barnburner with that nine-second zero to 60 time, but the electric motor delivers plenty of available torque for stop-light acceleration. And it’s one of the better fuel-cell entries for highway cruising. There are both “power” and “eco” driving modes.

The Mirai’s interior resembles an upscale Prius, and some touches (including the shifter position) offer cues to that hybrid. But it’s also got its own style, and every luxury option. Owners won’t complain.

Styling perhaps aside, the Mirai is quite a nice package. It’s ready for the real world, and only needs filling stations and drivers.

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