Will The Mirai Be The Next Prius? Toyota Calls Its New Hydrogen Fuel

Image credit: Toyota

Take, for example, the closing remarks of President and CEO Akio Toyoda's speech during a press event in Newport Beach, Calif., leading up to the Los Angeles Auto Show, in which he announced the name of the company's new hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the Mirai.


'We believe that behind the wheel of the Mirai, we can go places we have never been, to a world that is better, in a car that is better,' Toyoda said. 'For us, this isn't just another car. This is an opportunity, an opportunity to really make a difference. And making a difference is what Toyota is all about.'


The Japanese automaker is as serious about hydrogen fuel cells as it was about hybrids when the Prius first launched in 1997. It aims to bring fuel cells into the mainstream, and its first step is introducing the Mirai for the 2015 model year.


Perhaps underscoring how much Toyota believes in this initiative, the name 'Mirai' literally means 'future' in Japanese.


The odd-looking, four-door sedan is the production version of the FCV Concept, which Toyota unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last year. (Read more about FCV Concept .)


The Mirai was purpose-built around a fuel-cell stack that converts compressed hydrogen gas into electricity. The electricity, in turn, is stored in batteries and used to power a motor that drives the wheels. The car had a range of about 300 miles on a full tank of compressed hydrogen. It emits only water vapor out of the tailpipe and can be refueled in less than five minutes.


Toyota says the Mirai will go on sale in Japan before yearend and in California by spring next year. The car will cost the equivalent of about $69,000 in Japan. The U.S. pricing has not been announced yet, though some reports say the target is $50,000.


A lack of hydrogen fueling stations is one the biggest hurdles for getting buyers to consider fuel cell vehicles, which is why Toyota also announced plans to partner with Air Liquide, a global producer of hydrogen and other gases, to develop infrastructure across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The goal is to get stations up and running by 2016, which is when the Mirai is set to go on sale in the Northeast.


Toyota already has invested in hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California. In May, it announced a $7.3 million loan to FirstElement Fuels to support the operation and maintenance of 19 hydrogen fueling stations across the Golden State.


Other automakers are launching hydrogen fuel-cell initiatives too. This summer, Hyundai started selling a fuel-cell version of its Tucson in select California markets. Honda has offered a fuel cell car called the FCX Clarity in recent years as well.


What distinguishes the Toyota Mirai from these other vehicles is that Toyota has said it wants to make the car a part of its core vehicle lineup, rather than simply leasing it to pre-selected individuals, as Honda and Hyundai have done.


Read more on alternative fuels:Audi Says Synthetic 'E-Fuel' From Microorganisms Is Better Than Gas Or DieselThough Pricier Than Some EVs, The Volkswagen e-Golf Looks To Be A Decent ValueAston Martin Favors Hydrogen Over Hybrids, At Least For Now

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