Fuel-cell cars gain momentum with Toyota Mirai

Toyota announced the production version of its Mirai fuel-cell car today, ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, adding momentum to previously slow fuel-cell car development.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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2016 Toyota Mirai
Toyota announced its new fuel-cell vehicle, the 2016 Mirai. Toyota

The Honda Clarity has spent many years on the roads of Southern California as the lone representative of fuel-cell cars. Now, momentum is growing among other automakers for fuel cells, as Toyota announced the production version of the fuel-cell vehicle it introduced last January at CES.

In a video, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda announced the 2016 Toyota Mirai, the model name meaning 'future' in Japanese. Few details were offered on the car, other than its range of 300 miles on a full tank of hydrogen and its five-minute refueling time.

Fuel-cell vehicles are essentially electric cars, but instead of using a large array of battery packs for electricity storage, they have hydrogen storage tanks on board. The fuel cell harvests electricity from the reaction of that hydrogen combining with oxygen. The resultant emission is water vapor, making the cars qualify as zero emission vehicles in states that have a zero emission classification. The tanks, reinforced with Kevlar, have been proven safe in testing.

Hyundai has been leasing a fuel-cell version of its Tucson SUV in Southern California, and Audi is currently testing a fuel-cell version of the A7. These cars would help the automakers meet the zero emission vehicle mandate of the eight states that have signed onto these regulations, and also meet consumer demand for a long-range electric vehicle.

The biggest hurdle for fuel-cell vehicles is a lack of hydrogen fueling stations around the country. Toyota's announcement includes plans to build hydrogen stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. California currently has nine hydrogen stations, with 49 more in development, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

2016 Toyota Mirai
The Mirai combines hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell, which harvests electricity from the reaction to power the car. Toyota