Report: Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell Sedan Could Become Sub-Brand — Like the Prius

Back in 1997 when Toyota first began domestic production of its Prius hybrid sedan, the world was unfamiliar with the concept of hybrid vehicles. Eighteen years later, and the Prius name has become so synonymous with high gas-mileage and responsible driving that there’s a whole Toyota sub brand of vehicles proudly wearing the Prius nameplate.

For now, Toyota’s first mass-produced, limited-production hydrogen fuel cell sedan, the 2016 Toyota Mirai, is just one vehicle. But in ten to twenty years’ time, Mirai could become as synonymous among car buyers for hydrogen fuel cell technology as the Prius name is for hybrid vehicles today.

One day, says the Toyota Mirai's chief engineer, the Mirai badge may be its own sub brand of hydrogen vehicles.

One day, says the Toyota Mirai’s chief engineer, the Mirai badge may be its own sub brand of hydrogen vehicles.

That’s according to Toyota’s chief engineer for the Mirai fuel cell sedan Yoshikazu Tanaka, who told British publication Autocar in an interview published yesterday that given time, he hoped the Toyota Mirai would spawn its own family of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, just as the Toyota Prius has.

According to Tanaka, while the hydrogen fuel cell technology found inside the production Toyota Mirai fuel cell sedan may still be relatively expensive, Toyota is continuing to push the boundaries of what hydrogen fuel cell technology can do. In the last eight years, he said, hydrogen fuel cell stacks have gone from weighing 108 kilograms and producing around 90 kilowatts of power to weighing 56 kilograms and producing 114 kilowatts of power.

What Tanaka didn’t acknowledge this time — but has been acknowledged in the past — is that cutting the cost of building hydrogen fuel cell technology beyond what’s been achieved today is going to be particularly tough for the Japanese automaker.

Alongside those issues are ones concerning how to obtain large amounts of hydrogen fuel from clean, renewable sources, as well as building enough hydrogen fueling stations to support a mass-adoption of the technology.

The former is a big challenge to the clean, green image that Toyota and other hydrogen fuel cell supporters wish hydrogen fuel cell technology to have. At the moment, the majority of commercially-available hydrogen comes from the burning or reforming of fossil fuels. While producing hydrogen from low and zero-carbon sources — such as using electricity generated from photovoltaic panels or wind turbines to liberate hydrogen from water through electrolysis — is possible, doing so in a cost-effective way on a large scale is still a pipe dream for the hydrogen fuel industry.

The Toyota Mirai has a long way to go before it is worthy of its own sub-brand, like the Prius.

The Toyota Mirai has a long way to go before it is worthy of its own sub-brand, like the Prius.

The latter is a challenge which can only be answered with billions of dollars of investment worldwide and without which, mass-adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is impossible.

Despite these challenges however, Tanaka dreams of a day when the Mirai is as well-known as a brand as the Prius is today.

What forms future Mirai models will take is something Tanaka isn’t prepared to discuss at this point, but unless Toyota can dramatically reduce the size of its hydrogen fuel cell stack technology and its fuel cell tank technology, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything smaller than a mid-sized vehicle adopt hydrogen fuel cell technology for some time to come.

That means even if Toyota decided to make the Mirai its own sub brand as it has with the Prius, it’s going to need another fuel source — possibly electric or hybrid drivetrain — to cater to its smaller-sized vehicles.

We’re glad to see Toyota’s engineers show conviction and belief in the technology they’re aiming to bring to market. But just as many commentators remained skeptical on the future of Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain until the second or even third-generation Prius debuted, we’re going to remain skeptical of the Mirai’s hydrogen fuel cell technology until something more competitively priced hits the market.


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  • No problem on that renewable fuel. Toyota’s going to make the hydrogen from lemonade. Or cow pies. Or crystal clear pure creek water.

    Not a problem. It’s handled. I saw it on the Internet.

  • Chris O

    Toyota’s attitude towards hydrogen is pretty schizophrenic. On the one hand it’s amendment it’s the future but on occasional fits of honesty it admits that the technology to turn HFCVs into an affordable, durable and green mass market proposition doesn’t actually exist yet and that large scale hydrogen powered motoring is decades away.

    It always points at the “success” of the Prius to boost its credibility to pull this off but the challenges hydrogen faces are of a completely different order of magnitude and even the “successful” hybrid technology has always remained pretty fringe, never more than a few percent of the market. A profitable niche for Toyota but a commercial debacle for all other carmakers that have dabbled with it.

    It’s great that Toyota has managed to reduce the cost of fuel cell stacks by 90% to $50K but another 90% reduction is needed to make HFCVs an affordable mass market proposition and that’s just unlikely to happen so even not considering the tremendous infrastructure and energy source challenges HFCVs are facing, that Mirai sub-brand Tanaka is suggesting is just a pipe dream.