The Future of Hydrogen EVs
Mirai is a Japanese word that means “future.” It is also the name of Toyota’s forward-thinking mid-size hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and it is one of the first mass produced hydrogen-powered electric cars on the market. But, looking beyond the auto industry’s race to ween us off gas-powered cars in favor of all-electric vehicles, where does hydrogen fit into the scheme of things?
The History of the Toyota Mirai
The Mirai debuted in America at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show as a four-seater Prius-like sedan. Toyota said that the fuel cell system had an output of over 100kWh. Two, high pressure (bulletproof) hydrogen tanks under the car feeds power to the electric motor. One tank of hydrogen would get you 312 miles of driving range in this early version of the car.
Sales of the hydrogen car began in the U.S. in 2015. To date, global sales are just over 10,000 units, with Californians buying the majority of the cars. Why California? Because that state is currently the only place where you can find a hydrogen filling station. There are 44 of them in the state.
The second Generation Mirai came out at the end of 2019 with a 30 percent increase in driving range thanks to increased hydrogen capacity. An updated version was launched in April of 2021 that includes “Advanced Drive” that is Toyota’s version of near autonomous travel.
While the rest of the world appears to be adopting electricity as the fuel of the future, Toyota seems to be dedicated to hydrogen as the source of zero-emission vehicles of tomorrow. Cynthia Tenhouse, VP of Toyota Vehicle Marketing said at a press briefing, “Toyota is committed to fuel cell vehicles as part of our future. We believe there is a market as the infrastructure continues to develop. We strongly believe in this technology.”
This would certainly seem to be the case as the new 2021 Mirai is in showrooms now. It’s a great looking car, similar to the Lexus LS, only a bit smaller. Range has been pushed up to 402 miles and it is now a five-seater. The electric motor originally powered the front wheels, but the new Mirai is fitted with a 182-horsepower rear-wheel drive motor. The transmission is a simple one-speed direct drive to the rear wheels. Zero to 60 mph can be managed in nine seconds.
The MSRP on the Mirai has dropped by $9,000 when compared to its debut version. The sticker price is now $50,455 before incentives. “We don’t want the price to be a hindrance,” Tenhouse told the auto press. She went on to say that Toyota wants customers in the vehicle and that they consider the platform as an investment for the future.
Is Hydrogen The Fuel of the Future?
Toyota sees hydrogen as the emissions-free fuel of the future. The company reports that hydrogen will be created using clean-sourced electricity from solar and wind power. Currently, most hydrogen is made through the reformation of natural gas and is not exactly clean energy.
So far, the hydrogen power infrastructure has been moving along at a snail’s pace while most all-electric EV owners simply plug their cars into any convenient electrical outlet. As the world moves toward a goal of banning the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, it seems doubtful that hydrogen filling stations will outdistance electrical plugs any time soon.
Lease a Mirai for Free Fuel!
In order to push its hydrogen agenda, Toyota gives you three years of free hydrogen when you lease a Mirai. The automaker supplies you with a special credit card that is good at all hydrogen refueling stations (all 44 of them). The card will get you $15,000 worth of fuel. If you purchase a Mirai rather than leasing one, you’ll get six years of free hydrogen. In California, besides the free fuel you will also get a $4,500 state tax credit.
Another added bonus is that, realizing that finding hydrogen fuel might be difficult for you until more filling stations are on-line, Toyota gives Mirai drivers 21 days of complimentary car rental. The thought is that this will be useful for when travel takes you away from areas fitted with places to fill your hydro car.
How do you find a hydrogen station? Mirai owners load an app on their smartphones called H2-ca.com. But be aware, you’ll want to check the status of the filling station before you leave home as many Mirai owners in California have complained that by the time they get to the True Zero hydrogen station, they are met with no H2 to be had.
Teething pains include that even the most popular True Zero stations in Hollywood and San Francisco piggyback on existing gas stations and only offer one hydrogen pump, serving one customer at a time. Constant use causes the pump handle to freeze and become useless because the hydrogen must be kept at sub-freezing temperatures. Because frozen pumps are temporarily off-line, H2-ca.com sees these as “temporarily down” and you drive on hoping to find a refill before you run out of hydrogen.
Growing pains aside, California has plans for hundreds of new H2 stations that will serve one million vehicles by 2030. At the moment, the only hydrogen-powered cars on the market are the Mirai, Honda’s Clarity and Hyundai’s Nexo.