Road to the future: Toyota's big gamble on hydrogen fuel cell cars
Cooley On Cars
If you're Toyota, your Prius is both a huge triumph and kind of a nightmare.
They've set the bar, really high.
After you did that.
And kinda change the auto industry, what do you do next?
They think it's this.
This is called the Mirai, Japanese for future they tell me.
It is a production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at a time when most people think hydrogen fuel cell.
Is either yesterday's failed experiment or distant tomorrow's technological wish.
The Mirai is fascinating because it's a big bet being made by the company with the most to lose in terms of its cred as a power train visionary.
[NOISE] Let's tour the guts of a Mirai.
Now in the back you've got not one, but two hydrogen tanks.
One kind of here around the axle line, and one under the rear seat.
Those are filled at 10,000 PSI with hydrogen gas that gets down to a liquified level but it's only about five kilograms total weight of hydrogen.
You don't put a lot in here.
Notice it's got a battery.
Now this is a hybrid, but it's an electric electric hybrid.
Sometimes the car will take this hydrogen and run it through this fuel cell stack right here and use that directly to power the electric motor.
But other times, or at the same time, it will also create energy in the fuel cell stack and send some into the battery.
For storage while also driving the vehicle.
That's why it's a hybrid of two kinds of electricity.
The idea is to be able to have a nice buffer and not create it all on demand.
And then of course you've got an electric motor with a power control unit that is relatively like other electric vehicles.
The really interesting stuff is from mid-ships on back.
The simple version of a fuel cell is that it takes in hydrogen, crosses plates and as that happens the hydrogen's electrons are coaxed off in different directions.
Which is where the electronic flow is generated, that creates current.
At the final stage, hydrogen combines with available oxygen to form H2O, in the form of water vapor.
Enough water vapor is produced that the Mirada has an H2O dump button, that empties out its bladder, if you will.
So you can leave all that outside, instead of in.
Puddling on your garage floor.
Notice you can also use this vehicle to power other things like your home in an emergency.
It's a weird little side angle to this vehicle but there's a great big high current port in the trunk.
So if you were to have a power outage.
At your home, they will have accessories that will let you break that out into household current.
300 miles of range on a fill, three to five minutes to fill up the tanks, and no plugging in what-so-ever.
Now, in the market, the key to the Mirai is actually not so much the Mirai as it is Toyota's ability to sell a vision.
And that turns on making hydrogen available.
But, they say, less available than you might think.
If every vehicle in the State of California ran on hydrogen, we could meet refueling logistics with only 15% of the nearly 10,000 gas.
Stations that are currently operating in the state, based on the assumption that owners would wanna reach a refueling station within six minutes of their home or work.
Okay, what's it like driving this advanced technology?
Well, as Toyota is actually kind of proud to point out, it's sort of unremarkable.
If you've driven an electric car before, it doesn't feel that much different in fact, it doesn't feel any different at all.
High torque, very quiet, the occasional whine of motor and reduction gears.
But it feels like any other electric, which is what they were going for.
They don't want this to be jarring, or something that you have to get used to.
Other than the different way you fuel it.
I'll say this though, it does feel torquier.
And generally more powerful than a lot of other sort of, mid-class electrics or plug-in hybrids I've driven.
There's no lack of power or power assists.
Things like seat heaters and heated wheels, things you'd normally.
Really be nervous about in a battery car cuz you want to preserve that precious charge.
In this car they point out the behavior should be different because you'll be able to charge readily, if you can fill it up at all in your area.
And then you won't worry so much about being so parsimonious with the volts.
Size of the vehicle on the outside is kinda closer to Camry than it is to Prius.
and notice in the trunk, you do not have folding rear seats.
And you do have a little bit of a limited trunk space there.
Not bad, but is some intrusion from where they have mounted the twin hydrogen.
Now if you're just in this to save money, sit down.
Sufficient hydrogen to cover say, 300 miles will cost you around 50 bucks in a Mirai.
You can do that same distance for about $33 in a four cylinder gas Camry that costs a lot less up front, and for just $10 in a Nissan Leaf.
So, with all the charging stops, it might take you days to get there.
And it's anybody's guess where hydrogen prices would go should there be widespread adoption, because we're nowhere near that.
Now, saying Toyota wants this to be the next, if bigger, Prius, is an apt statement.
But the Prius required no changes in infrastructure, the world was already set up for it, if you will.
The Mirai arrives on a very different stage
Okay, the Mirai hits the US Fall 2015.
Price'll be around $57,500, that's steep of course.
Look for about $13,000 in federal and California credits, the only state where it's going to be sold initially.
Later they'll expand out to some northeast markets, they have to follow the infrastructure of course.
But this is a major stake by Toyota, a vision not just of a vehicle but of where they think infrastructure can reasonably go.
And if they're right, this short circuits a lot of the headaches that surround battery electrics today.
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