Where Toyota’s New “Mirai” Fuel Cell Vehicle Gets it Right

This is an excerpt from an Examiner.com column written by  Sebastian James, publisher of Hybrid and Electric Car News. Enjoy, and be sure to subscribe to his posts.


In Japanese, “Mirai” means the future. Toyota hopes the hydrogen-powered “Mirai” becomes synonymous with the same success as their car named after the Latin word for prior, or “Prius”.

For an island nation, the Mirai may signal the start of moving the domestic fleet towards a completely sustainable fuel source. That would be revolutionary and logical. Kind of like the Ukraine moving to solar and away from natural gas.

The Mirai, being introduced at this week’s 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, is more about the battle for the future of power trains than a new vehicle. We are already headed towards lighter, more efficient and powerful engines. The naysayers of the past 20 years never expected hybrid, electric and high-mileage engines to become this powerful. A Tesla that goes 0-60 in 3 seconds. A 2.3 liter Mustang engine that generates 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque.

It is as if the pundits figured automotive engineers would abandon driving pleasure in order to follow oil lobby-fueled Orwellian nightmares of a small grey car for every household.

Europe is following the American lead towards more hybrid offerings, whether standard or plug-in hybrid, gasoline or diesel.

Elon Musk and his band at Tesla sees electric as the future. He’s making a compelling case. He’s got some great vehicles with more to come. If he can successfully bring a $35-$40k EV to market, then the near future in green cars may be his.

Other Asian auto companies haven’t embraced green technology to the extent of Toyota; or the other leading marques. Granted, they are the gold standard when it comes to high-mileage cars, but fuel cell is like pulling Excalibur from the stone. Hyundai recently announced a fuel cell Tucson. Nissan makes has the Leaf EV, but that hasn’t made the same splash as the Prius. Honda has a little bit of everything, but not much of something. Mazda has less than that. Subaru? Kia? Suzuki?

In the long run, I believe that fuel cell is the way to go. As much as I like the number of jobs that Tesla’s Gigafactory is supposed to create, the idea of hydrogen as a fuel with water as a tailpipe emission is irresistible. Think of what this could mean for famine-plagued nations. Or the water supply in general? What happens if you collect and dump your water into municipal processing systems as you fuel your vehicle? If a fuel cell can provide water for the Space Shuttle….

I also think that the other Japanese manufacturers will begin a move there as well. This will take time, maybe 15-20 years, maybe less. The upside is that gasoline costs will further decrease, and the need to send our soldiers to “Nowhere-i-stan” to defend oil interests will be based more on politics and less on economics.

China represents the other “X” factor. We in the US tend to think we lead the global automotive market. Better growth and higher profits are to be found in China. If the Chinese government becomes interested in fuel cell as a part of a plan to restore their air to 1970’s Los Angeles quality and better, then the market will move in their direction.

Here’s a question, while you look over the great pictures of the Mirai–where do you fuel it?

This is where I think Toyota is getting the outlines of the strategy right.

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Sebastian James

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