Toyota Banking on its Fuel-Cell Car, the 2016 Mirai
The number of car manufacturers that have invested in fuel-cell technology is slim, which isn’t to say that it’s an ill advised play. Toyota, since its inception, has long been at the forefront of automotive innovation, whether by design and styling, or technical savvy. It was the first automaker to give its cars curves, effectively removing the boxy styles of the 1970s and 1980s.
It launched the Prius Hybrid in 1997 when much of the buying public was busy fawning over gas-guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks. At the time, it was not a popular decision, but Toyota executives knew the Prius would be a money maker in due time. By the early 2000s, the Prius had become a hit, and the rest of the auto industry was playing catch up. Nearly twenty years later, the Prius is the all-time leader in hybrid sales.
So when Toyota turned its attention to a hydrogen-based model as the fuel of the future, it’s only natural to pay attention. Its track record is just too good to ignore. The 2016 Toyota Mirai, which is the Japanese carmaker’s foray into the hydrogen fuel-cell segment, will go on sale in the U.S. later this year with an expected MSRP of $57,700, according to a report from GreenCarReports.com.
As in any game changing product, there are considerable obstacles. One of which is cost of entry. At first, these vehicles will be high-priced, and heavily reliant on federal and state tax credits, both of which are written with sunset provisions so automakers can’t rely on these subsidies forever.
Then there is the expensive question of transportation infrastructure. According to Popular Mechanics, the current cost of a hydrogen filling station is pegged at more than $1 million, neither the government nor the corporate world has any plans for a rapid expansion of the filling network. Meanwhile, the fuel-cells chief competitor, the electric vehicle, has electricity everywhere. The power grid already exists with charging stations popping up at business parks, municipal centers, parking garages, along major freeway routes, and the list goes on and on.
Furthermore, there is a huge public knowledge gap with just how hydrogen can morph itself into a transportation fuel. Just understanding how hydrogen produces electricity to power a 2-ton automobile requires a refresher course in college chemistry.
Certainly Toyota is facing an uphill battle and we at Sunspeed are encouraged to hear about its courage to test an unproven fuel. Imagine the criticism it received when it poured millions into its hybrid technology, only to watch the entire automotive industry snicker at its business plan.
The key learning here is that the transportation of the future will be more about renewable-based energy and less about smog-inducing fossil fuels. A mixture of electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cell cars, and plug-in hybrids will help reduce the global carbon footprint, and make up the majority of the vehicle fleets. It won’t happen overnight, but that is the direction we are heading in.