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10 Jun 18

Green pioneer test - Toyota Mirai: Fortune favours the brave

Hydrogen-based fuel cell technology is one of the routes explored by sustainable mobility trailblazer Toyota. The Mirai is unlikely to make it to your fleet, but deserves your consideration as it gives a foretaste of what might be the near future.

The Mirai is perhaps not what you would call an aesthetic masterpiece. But it is a head-turner, that is for sure. Its intriguing lines, sharp edges and floating black roof are such a rare sight on our roads that even car haters can’t help but follow its silent moves. Perhaps the gigantic stickers on the sides of our test vehicle played a part. In any case, even if it’s not a looker, it is a pleaser. People seem genuinely charmed by the Mirai and enthusiastically ask questions as soon as you park it. If it was Toyota’s mission to sow amazement and reap kudos, then it is more than accomplished.

Mirai means future

Toyota firmly believes that hydrogen is the future – or at least one of the solutions to a more sustainable mobility with zero tailpipe emissions. The Mirai should be seen as a PR car, one that educates and creates awareness. In case you are wondering how much it costs: it is around €60,000 plus VAT. Not what you could call ‘tempting’, but even at this price, Toyota isn’t making money – on the contrary. The price-tag is perhaps more symbolical than anything else. By way of comparison: an entry-level electric Jaguar I-Pace sets you back €65,000.

Compared to the latter, this spacey Toyota offers less performance and practicality. The fuel cell is rather bulky, meaning the boot of the Mirai is disappointingly small. On the inside, the occupants are pampered with premium materials, lots of space and a feeling of genuine wellbeing, not least thanks to the excellent soundproofing and very soft ride. Indeed, the suspension is very ‘American’, making this heavyweight feel a bit like an 80s Cadillac, with a body that gently bounces (and again) every time you hit a speed bump.

Hydrogen: hard to find and volatile

The biggest problem with a car like the Mirai, is the lack of hydrogen fuelling stations. In fact, the lack of infrastructure density means you need to plan your trips meticulously. And even if you do, you need to drive around and waste precious hydrogen to get to the nearest station. Some would call that absurd. The Mirai can carry about 5 kg of hydrogen pressurised at 700 bar (10,000 PSI), which according to Toyota yields a range of 500 km. When you drive the Mirai the same way as you would your own car, i.e. without really making an ecological effort, 1.5 kg of hydrogen easily evaporate every 100 km.

Admittedly, the outside temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius, requiring the aircon to work hard all the time. But even if you do try and be green, you still burn hydrogen at a rate of 1.3 kg/100 km. A range of 350 km is the best you can hope for. That is comparable to the aforementioned electric Jag, but not enough to do away with range anxiety given the fact that you have to build in some reserve to reach the fuelling station. And there is more disappointment: Toyota claims you can refill the hydrogen tanks in three minutes. We filled up our Mirai three times, and even with still some H2 left, it took at least nine.

A business case?

Hydrogen does not come cheap, and like the Mirai, its price is rather symbolical, because it is not determined by demand and supply. One kilo of H2 costs about €10. In a realistic scenario, 100 km will cost you more or less €13. Depending on the market, a conventional car of similar dimensions and comparable performance will burn fuel at a cost of €10 to €14 per 100 km. A Jaguar I-Pace easily uses 25 kWh per 100 km travelled. Charging at home, at the office and at a public station costs €0.2 / kWh on average, meaning 100 km equals €5. That leaves the Mirai with a competitive disadvantage.

And so does the residual value. No-one is willing to take a risk in this area, as there is virtually no market for fuel cell vehicles – at least not today. By the time the Mirai reaches the end of its lease, let’s say 2021, technology will undoubtedly have evolved, making this eccentric Toyota a technological dinosaur – unless its technology can be updated and upgraded. So, the Mirai is not a car that makes economic or practical sense. But neither did the first electric vehicles on the market back in the 90s. Someone has to clear the path, and Toyota deserves nothing but praise for assuming this duty.  

Picture copyright: Toyota (main picture, interior picture), Dieter Quartier (others), 2018

Authored by: Dieter Quartier