Toyota introduced the world’s first mass-market hydrogen-powered vehicle when it released the Mirai fuel-cell car in Japan in 2014. According to a report last week from Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the company’s lineup of fuel-cell cars will soon expand to multiple models of various sizes with a range of price points. The story indicates that Toyota is planning a model that is smaller and more affordable than the Mirai—in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
News about a smaller version of the Mirai follows reports from last fall about Toyota introducing a Lexus-based fuel-cell luxury sedan by 2020.
Toyota, which will serve as one of the corporate sponsor of the Tokyo games, will seize the opportunity of the global extravaganza to highlight the benefits of its eco-friendly hydrogen technology. By 2020, the Japanese government wants to put 100 hydrogen-powered buses and 6,000 fuel-cell passenger cars on the nation’s roads.
Toyota will produce about a couple thousand fuel-cell cars this year, but plans to reach production and global sales of about 30,000 units by 2020. That’s four short years away. To achieve that goal, production and component costs will need to be reduced and production processes must be reconfigured for greater scale.
Currently, the Toyota Mirai is produced on the company’s famed Motomachi assembly line by a select group of about 13 workers, who do much of the work by hand. Each of those team members must memorize and install 200 or more different parts—in order to gain a deep understanding of the whole vehicle and the unique requirements for assembling a fuel-cell car. As Mirai production volume grows and the company starts building other hydrogen models, those same workers will train an expanded production team.
The new Mirai in the works, as reported last week, could be created in the same spirit as the Prius C, which is a smaller, more efficient and more affordable version of the Toyota Prius Liftback. The Prius C and the Prius V wagon were introduced to make Toyota’s hybrid-electric technology—and the iconic aerodynamic design of the Prius—available to consumers with a wider range of driving needs. The Prius C, for example, is a small and efficient city commuter, while the Prius V offers about the same passenger and cargo capacity as a small SUV.
Those Prius variants were introduced more than a decade after the original Prius. If Toyota introduces a smaller fuel-cell car by 2020, it would follow much faster after the Mirai than the timing for past additions to the Prius family of vehicles. Sales of all three Prius models in the United States added up to about 180,000 units in 2015.
According to Asahi Shimbun, the new smaller Mirai model would be sold for about $10,000 to $15,000 less than the current Mirai, which has a pre-incentive starting price of $57,500. That could put the price of a so-called Mirai C—capable of 300 or so miles of driving range and refueling times of about five minutes—at close to $30,000 after consumer incentives, with even greater value to buyers if Toyota continues to provide free hydrogen fuel at that time.
The addition of a range of hydrogen-powered models—and reaching economies of scale in terms of components and manufacturing—is considered one of the keys to reducing the cost of fuel-cell cars like the Mirai. Yoshikazu Tanaka, the chief engineers of the Mirai, told FuelCellCars.com in 2015 that he is now working on development of the second-generation Mirai. “My primary goal is to improve the efficiency of mass production so we can reduce cost,” he said. “The first-generation Mirai shows the vast possibility of using hydrogen, but it’s just the beginning.”