When an automaker brings a new vehicle to market, there’s often a pre-ordering process for eager customers to express an interest in finding out more about that vehicle. While not every new car launch comes with such a process, it’s become more common of late, especially for cutting-edge alternative-fuel and limited-production vehicles.
Indeed, if you were following the green car scene back in 2010, you’ll know that both Nissan and General Motors both offered online reservation systems where potential customers could register their interest in the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt plug-in cars. More recently, BMW offered a similar online registration system for customers eager to find out more about its i3 and i3 REx electric cars.
Now that same process is being used by Toyota to gauge interest in its 2015 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, a vehicle which Toyota hopes will be as revolutionary to the automotive world as the Toyota Prius hybrid was when it made its global debut back in 1998.
Yet ten days after launching an online registration service where interested customers can raise their hand for more information on driving Toyota’s first production hydrogen fuel cell sedan, only 600 customers have registered.
That’s an average of 60 people per day. Assuming a steady rate of enquiries — something we note is mathematically fraught with problems — that translates to an equivalent of roughly 1,826 hand-raisers per month.
“That’s everyone that has gone to Toyota.com/Mirai and requested a vehicle (since July 20),” company spokeswoman Jana Hartline told WardsAuto at the end of last week.
Demographically, Toyota says the majority of those 600 hand-raisers fit the stereotypical first-wave, early adopter.
“The typical early adopters, the tech savvy… is what w’ere seeing for Mirai,” confirmed Hartline.
That’s the same type of people who were among early hand-raisers for electric cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt: educated, affluent tech-savvy buyers who want to be on the cutting edge
When it goes on sale this October, the Mirai will only be available at just eight dealerships in California: four in the Greater Los Angeles area, and four in the San Francisco Bay area. Costing $57,700 for an outright purchase, Toyota is also making the Mirai available on a special 36-month lease deal for $499 per month with $3,649 due at signing.
That is slightly more expensive than the lease deal for the Mirai’s biggest competitor, the 2015 Hyundai Tucson FCV. Sold at a similarly select group of dealerships in southern California, Hyundai’s fuel cell SUV is available for lease only for a cost of $499 per month for 36 months, with $2,999 due at signing.
WardsAuto says Toyota expects around 90 percent of its initial Mirai sales to be leased rather than purchased, although it doesn’t quote the expected split between private and corporate customers. Since the Mirai launched in its home market of Japan earlier this year, the overwhelming Marjory of vehicle sales have been to corporate and fleet buyers rather than private individuals.
Between this fall and the end of 2017, Toyota says it has reserved 3,000 Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the U.S. market, with sales restricted initially to California and then expanded to include part of the U.S. East Coast.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’d like to remind readers that as with pre-ordering for the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 before it, not all customers expressing an interest in the Toyota Mirai at this stage will end up finding themselves buying the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
Indeed, Toyota’s list is currently for customers to express an interest in buying the car, not a commitment to buy. Of those 600 people thus far, some will be discounted by Toyota as being unsuitable for owning the hydrogen fuel cell sedan, while others will make their own decisions not to continue with their purchase.
In other words, hand-raising does not naturally translate to sales.
As for the volume? That’s harder to gauge. While 600 registrations in 10 days may seem reasonable enough, Nissan took just over five months to accrue 20,000 hand-raisers for the Nissan LEAF back in 2010, an average of 130 people per day.
At launch, it too was considered a low-volume, niche-market car, and still is by many in the automotive world.
Regardless of the number of hand-raisers however, Toyota’s biggest challenge isn’t getting customers: it’s readying the necessary hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in its key market areas ahead of the Mirai’s October launch.
Without it, Toyota may find that getting hand-raisers will be the lease of its worries.
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