The Toyota Mirai fuel-cell car goes into production in Japan at the end of this year, and a full order book there is testimony to the importance of laying the groundwork for a hydrogen energy economy.
Toyota has already fielded 1,500 orders for the Mirai in Japan, far more than the 400 the company thought it would get. Because of that, production is being increased to 3,000 by 2017, with 700 in 2015 and 2,000 in 2016.
“This recently announced production increase is meant to respond to the strong demand for Mirai in the Japan market,” said John Hanson, national manager for advanced technology and business communications at Toyota. “It will not affect the volume currently planned for North America. We will still get a few hundred units, beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015. By the end of 2017, we will have received more than 3,000 units.”
Japan, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and before, has championed a “hydrogen society” as a route to energy independence for the country, which lacks significant oil and natural gas resources of its own. The 2011 nuclear disaster and tsunami were catalysts that helped put money behind the initiatives. Subsidies for the Mirai ($63,000 in Japan) will amount to $25,500 in some regions of the country, Bloomberg reported. Reuters said the total government subsidies could “top $400 million.”
“Hydrogen can encourage new industrial development that can have the impact of changing our society’s structure, creating new jobs and improving our global competitiveness,” said Mitsuhisa Kato, a Toyota vice president.
Japan launched a 10-year, 18-billion-yen hydrogen R&D program in 1992, and completed it in 2002. Numerous other initiatives have been launched since then, including a 2005 to 2008 effort to install residential fuel cells in Japanese apartments. In its first three years, more than 2,000 one-kilowatt units were installed from such companies as Ballard, Sanyo, Toshiba, Toshiba and Matsushita Electric. They use natural gas, LPG and even kerosene as feedstocks.
Japan is also aiming to have 100 urban hydrogen fueling stations in place by the end of March, with subsidies of approximately $2 million per station (half the likely cost).