Usually, when an automaker launches a new car, or delivers the first ever production model to a customer, there’s a degree of pomp and circumstance which at least gets noticed somewhere by the automotive press.
But last week, just as the 2015 North American Auto Show was wrapping up in Detroit, Japanese automaker Toyota delivered its first Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan. The customer? Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
You’d think that such an auspicious occasion would warrant some column inches somewhere, but for the most part, the delivery of Toyota’s first production fuel cell sedan seems to have gone unnoticed by most of our colleagues in the automotive world.
For an automaker with its heart set on challenging the dominance of the electric car in the zero emission marketplace, that’s rather a disappointing start.
At the official ceremony last Thursday where a comically oversized ‘key’ was handed to Prime Minister Abe by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, the Toyota boss hailed the start of deliveries as an important chapter in the Toyota’s history.
“This is a historic step and I’m truly excited,” he said. “This will be a long journey, and to make this first step truly historic we will all need to work together.”
“This moment represents the daw on the age of hydrogen,” said Prime Minister Abe, adding that he felt the Toyota Mirai “accelerates well, and is truly quiet and comfortable.”
After driving the car for the press on a rainy Tokyo day, Prime Minister Abe said that he hoped all Japanese Government agencies would use the car and that it was his plan to help pass new legislation to make hydrogen refuelling stations easier to install and use.
Toyota says it already has more than 1,400 reservations for its first hydrogen fuel cell sedan. Despite generous incentives in its home market that knock up to ¥3 million off its ¥7 million sticker price, the majority of pre-orders appear to come from government and corporate fleets rather than private individuals.
Yet with incentives for hydrogen fuel cell cars not-yet agreed in Europe and hydrogen fuel cell purchase incentives now expired in the U.S., Toyota risks an uphill struggle to make the Mirai sell well outside of Japan.
Which raises the question: did we just all miss the first Mirai fuel cell delivery because we were preoccupied elsewhere, or is Toyota quietening down its fuel cell announcements in the face of growing doubt about its fuel of the future?
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