When the Mirai became available in late 2014, Toyota was convinced that the fuel cell would be the future of the automotive industry. Last year, however, the carmaker adjusted its strategy and explained that – previous statements notwithstanding – it would also start offering battery-driven vehicles. Did the then-number one carmaker get cold feet after previously announcing to rely on hybrid and fuel cells only? Or has demand for electric cars risen so dramatically in Asia that Toyota just wants its piece of the pie? H2-international has rented a Mirai for five days to put it to the test and see whether the forward-looking car is indeed ready for the mass market and has a realistic chance of becoming a household name.
Unlike some European carmakers, Toyota Germany doesn’t have any press cars available for test drives. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when Dirk Breuer, spokesperson for the German subsidiary, told me he had contacted a Toyota dealer in Berlin that would offer me its Mirai. After driving my LPG-run Mini to Ollenhauerstrasse in Reinickendorf, a Berlin suburb, I received a warm welcome by Mr. Hein, who immediately started explaining the technology to me.
Very little was happening following the push of the start button: not so much as a blip from the engine and no lengthy warm-up despite the low outside temperatures. The car only signaled that everything was ready, so I put my foot down on the accelerator pedal and started moving forward.
Amenities of a touring sedan
The car boasts many nice gadgets and functions; for example, the seat will automatically move a bit to the back when you unfasten the seat belt and move forward when you do the opposite. The innovative design of the heating controls in the middle lets passengers set temperatures with the stroke of a finger. When getting out, you only need to shut the door and lightly touch the two stripes on it to lock all doors and watch the side mirrors fold.
Closely related to the refueling issue is the fact that CEP fuel card holders are the only ones able to fill up hydrogen tanks in Germany. Since I don’t have a card and there was none in the Mirai, I had to drive in economy mode most of the time, so that as promised, I could show several interested students at the end of the five-day period how it feels to ride in a car like this. I finally arrived safe and sound and on time at the Toyota dealership, so that the vehicle could still be prepared for the marketing campaign planned the following day.
Toyota has been researching fuel cells since the mid-1990s; since 2010, it has also taken on the task of popularizing the technology. The first sign of that was the cooperation with BMW, as the Bavarian carmaker was afraid of being left behind on the development. In return, the Japanese business gained access to BMW’s diesel technology. In 2014, Toyota made its around 5,680 patents on fuel cells and hydrogen available to everyone for free, in order to encourage other automotive suppliers to adopt fuel cells. But the head of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, boasted that his corporation’s advancement were “on par with Toyota’s” and that Daimler did not need to use any of those patents.
It is not as if the company’s previous single-focus strategy hasn’t proven successful. This January, 20 years after the introduction of the first hybrid vehicle, Toyota reached the milestone of ten million hybrid cars sold worldwide. The new target set by Takeshi Uchiyamada, board chair of Toyota, is one million plug-in hybrids in fewer than ten years. And when the next generation of fuel cell cars hits the market in 2020, the aim is to reach annual sales of 30,000 fuel cell and 1.5 million hybrid vehicles.
Right now, however, things are expected to move at a slower pace: Didier Leroy, president of business planning and operation at Toyota, had already told Austrian newspaper Kurier in 2015 that “market opportunities will remain very limited between today and 2020. At that point, we expect to see capacity increases until 2025 before we kick it into high gear, as we did with our hybrid cars.” Kurier went on to quote Akio Toyoda, president of the Toyota, who reportedly said about fuel cell technology that it would be “the engine for the next 100 years of automotive development.”
In early 2017, Toyota recalled all its previously sold Mirai cars (around 2,800) due to a software bug that caused the engine to shut down in certain situations.
1 thought on “Toyota’s Fuel Cell Bet – Mirai Test Drive”
The future of H2, FC and batteries,
should we ever have one, will be looking different.
That is the only thing, which is for sure.
The rest is still governmental funded speculation.