Toyota Exec Says Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Will Be as Big as the Prius Hybrid

When you’ve got a product to sell, it’s a given that you’ll do everything you can to ensure it is advertised in just the right light: creating a buzz that ensures it’s an outstanding sensation before it has even reached the shops. Any doubt that it won’t be a success is carefully questioned, managed and quietly swept under the carpet, while competitors’ products are scrutinised, discredited, or made to look inferior.

The Toyota Prius has changed the way people think about hybrid cars -- but will the Toyota Mirai do the same for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

The Toyota Prius has changed the way people think about hybrid cars — but will the Toyota Mirai do the same for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

If you’ve got a past success to compare your new product to, your job just got a whole lot easier.

So it’s no surprise that Japanese automaker Toyota is seeking to cast its upcoming 2015 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan — a car that it has already admitted will be hand-built in limited numbers at its specialist LFA Works facility in Toyota City, Japan — as a car which will be as influential and popular in the future as the Toyota Prius hybrid is today.

That’s according to Rob Carter, Toyota USA’s head of automotive operations, who told The Detroit News (Via GreenCarReports) last week that the Toyota Mirai will have the same impact on the automotive world as the Toyota Prius hybrid.

“We look back now and say the Prius changed the industry,” Carter said. “I think we’re going to be looking back and saying Mirai changed it all.”

Carter: the 2016 Toyota Mirai will change the automotive industry forever.

Carter: the 2016 Toyota Mirai will change the automotive industry forever.

With a price tag of $57,500 when it launches late next year in the U.S., only a handful of Toyota Mirai are expected to be delivered in the U.S. before the end of 2015. In total, Toyota says it hopes to sell 400 Mirai fuel cell sedans in its home market of Japan next year, with 300 vehicles elsewhere. At the time of writing however, Toyota has just 200 pre-orders for the four-seat sedan.

But it’s worth remembering that the Toyota Prius hybrid — only sold in its home market of Japan for the first few years of its existence — was also a slow-starter.

In fact, it is widely surmised that Toyota failed to make a single dollar in profit on the Toyota Prius during the first ten years of its production, with the car and its hybrid technology only truly paying off when the third-generation Toyota Prius launched globally in 2009.

For Toyota to replicate that kind of success with its hydrogen fuel cell car however, it has to do two different things: dramatically reduce the cost of manufacture and increase its expected sales figures.

The Toyota Mirai is certainly unconventional -- but will it be as influential as the Prius?

The Toyota Mirai is certainly unconventional — but will it be as influential as the Prius?

Ignoring its launch year of 1997 — where the Prius was only on sale for a few weeks — the Toyota Prius sold around 17,500 cars in its first twelve months on sale. For reference, that’s more than the 10,000 Mirais that Toyota hopes to produce and sell globally by the end of 2017.

Of course, history is full of limited-production but highly-influential cars, many of which have changed the way we think about cars. But while there’s no prerequisite that says the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle has to sell in large volumes in order to be influential, we’d suggest it wouldn’t hurt.

Toyota is under no illusion the road will be easy, viewing its Mirai investment and the future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as a slow burn rather than an explosion into the marketplace.

“I really think there’s an opportunity where (fuel cell) is going to be the dominant technology 20 to 30 years out,” Carter said. “It’s not going to be a 24-month overnight success story. It’s going to be steady growth.”

But while Toyota’s Prius hybrid could use the same gasoline fuelling infrastructure as every other gasoline vehicle on the market, the success of the Toyota Mirai relies on third-parties, governments and Toyota itself investing heavily in hydrogen refuelling infrastructure. With only a handful of hydrogen refuelling stations across the U.S. at the time of writing, developing a robust, reliable hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is Toyota’s first biggest challenge.

Hyundai's Tucson FCV (sold in Europe as the iX35 FCV) is far more practical than the Mirai

Hyundai’s Tucson FCV (sold in Europe as the iX35 FCV) is far more practical than the Mirai, but equally limited in number

Perhaps the biggest challenge to Toyota’s goal making the Mirai the new Prius in terms of green kudos and brand identity however isn’t market price, refuelling infrastructure, or production volume. It’s Hyundai.

That’s because Hyundai’s Tucson FCV Crossover SUV, already available to lease in California, is a far more appealing to the majority of car buyers. Unlike the unusually-designed Mirai, the Tucson FCV is a hydrogen fuel cell conversion of an already popular and practical SUV model made and sold by Hyundai.

And if we’d have to guess, we’d suspect it costs a lot less to build than the Mirai, giving Hyundai a head-start in the marketplace in more ways than one. That said, the Tucson FCV is a similarly low-volume vehicle, at least for now.

Will the Toyota Mirai be as big and influential as the Toyota Prius was? Or will it become an ‘also ran’ in the automotive history books of the future? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Ad van der Meer

    …only if they can find a way to make hydrogen in a very ecofriendly, cheap way.

    • Dan Westin

      Like Honda has done in Swindon?nnHydrogen fuel becomes a practical realitynnThe launch of the UKu2019s first commercial-scale hydrogen production and refuelling facility powered by solar energy heralds the dawn of an era of true carbon-free fuel.nnThe gas will be generated at Honda UK’s manufacturing plant in Swindon at the rate of 20 tonnes per year using a process called solar hydrolysis…n Evolved chooses to totally ignore this story. Which makes sense if you want to continue to pretend that Hydrogen is a Boogey Man.

      • Tim Martin

        I am sure no one here thinks of Hydrogen as the Boogey Man. However I do question the validity of the economics. This process of using water to make clean Hydrogen would work fine if everyone had access to the mass amount of water that will be needed. When you start to figure in the mass market use of FCVs the problem of creating the infrastructure to support them. You will need to have massive investments in pipelines and fueling stations. You will not be able to produce clean Hydrogen once you leave the coastal areas and move inland or travel across landmasses such as in USA, China, Africa, ETC, ETC. People will not allow use of local water supplies from the inland sources to produce Hydrogen. Prices for water is growing every year in the US where I live, due to drought and other climate issues. China is having water troubles also. These are two of the biggest automotive markets that will need to adopt FCVs to make them practical and affordable. Even if they started now, with massive spending on the infrastructure, it would take 20 to 50 years to have it in place for daily use. Now consider that with the same solar power you can use to power BEVs for cheaper overall cost and is predicted to only get better. Also the fact that most nations already have Power infrastructure in place and would be vastly cheaper to upgrade for BEVs/Solar/Wind storage and use. I just do not see any advantage or reason to think FCVs will become mass market or affordable.nI do see however a great use for FCs in use with ferry ships with backup ICE generators for use close to shore or crossings specially in places around Europe and S/E Asia. nOne thing for sure Oil is not going anywhere soon. Even if all vehicles were EVs oil is still needed to produce everyday items we all use. I could list hundreds or thousands of things oil will be used for, but I am sure everyone here know that already.

        • Hydrogen does have its issues to overcome, I don’t favor it over BEV’s. On more than on occasion I have seen the claim that producing hydrogen gas from water for vehcile use is an issue due to lack of water. Really?nnWater is plentiful enough. If Hydrogen does manage to displace oil/gasoline/petrol as a car fuel we will no longer need to refine oil for fuel, which BTW will release vast quantities of *water* to be used as we see fit.nn”About 3,500 million gallons of water was withdrawn daily in 1955 for use by petroleum refineries in the United States.”nnSource: argument that Hydrogen gas production will cause a water shortage is just plain silly.nnTo paraphrase Elon Musk, You have enough water to power all the cars in the country if you stop refining oil. 🙂

          • Tim Martin

            First off I never said we didn’t have enough water. You misunderstood my post or maybe I didn’t make it clear enough. I will say that most of the Midwest and southwest United States is in drought conditions and even some towns have to truck in water on occasions. This has caused the cost of water supply to rise. I live in a town of about 30k along the Des Moines river in Iowa and it cost $80 to $100 per month for a single person household, (some families pay $200 to $300) just for water bill. Lack of water is also true in parts of China and Africa. So to say people would allow for local production of hydrogen at the cost of local water supplies is, IMO, a valid concern. This is why I also said that you would need massive infrastructure such as pipelines and filling stations to supply these areas. This would take years and massive spending to implement. It will be cheaper for the consumer to invest in solar/wind/storage for use in BEVs and homes. This will further allow people to obtain what they really want. Which is freedom from fuel pumps and utilities grid. Though TBH that will be a few years away yet.

      • Ad van der Meer

        Cheap: There is no mention of the true cost of hydrogen produced in SwindonnnnEcofriendly: Production of hydrogen by solar is a matter of effiency. Every sq ft of solar for the production of hydrogen could be used to produce electricity regardless how that electricity is used afterwards.nnn20 ton per year looks like a high number, but is really not that much. It remains to be seen if this is scalable to levels needed for say 10% of all cars and busses. After all, you can’t pump hydrogen at home and it remains to be seen if that can be made and, maybe even more important, kept safe.

      • Dan, nnWe’re not ignoring hydrogen. But Honda’s H2 plant isn’t scalable yet to the kind of levels you’d need to produce hydrogen on a massive scale. 20 tons sounds a lot, but that’s enough to fuel ten cars every day for a year. nnWe’d need to do a lot more in order to make that scalable. And while you’ve mentioned in the past your belief that electric cars are coal-powered, a surprising number of plug-in owners have photovoltaic solar panels at home to charge their car from, or offset the energy they use at night by generating it from photovoltaics during the day. nnHere at TransportEvolved, we do cover all fuel types. We cover all tech moving forward, but we have to be honest about the challenges facing each and every fuel type. There’s no silver bullet. And Hydrogen, like EVs, faces some big challenges.nnYou’ll also note that we covered the Honda event — but from a “what does it feel like to drive” point of view 🙂

        • Ad van der Meer

          10 cars a day, only if you don’t have a bus fueling up that day it is.

  • CDspeed

    Was the Prius ever really that big of a success, hybrids never really took off. And now they’re using the Prius as an example for the Mirai’s success even though you could buy a fleet of Priuss for the cost of building one Mirai. And you can’t even buy one just anywhere because you can’t fuel it up.

  • Esl1999 .

    Hybrids simply captured and utilized what would have been wasted energy. In the beginning, the extra cost was measured against fuel savings. There was the added benefit of less emissions but people tended to forget about that. Mirai is asking a helluva big change. Prius didn’t ask you to change what you normally did, not so with the Mirai. Premium for the Prius was small compared to paying over $60,000 (with taxes) for a Toyota roughly the size of a Corolla. In 20 years, Japan maybe the only significant market for the Mirai and other FCVs.

  • Surya

    When the Prius was launched and became a succes, it was one of the greenest cars on the road with little competition. The competition for the hydrogen car is already here and with growing success. We’ll see how that pans out.