The Toyota Mirai rolls out this week in what the company calls an automotive history turning point. The Mirai, one of the first mass-market cars to run on hydrogen fuel cells, converts compressed hydrogen gas to electricity. Described as an affordable, eco-friendly “future car,” the Mirai can drive for 300 miles and charges in about three minutes. Three hundred miles gives the Mirai the longest range of any electric car on the market.
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, pioneer of electric cars, calls the concept “extremely silly,” and says hydrogen is an “incredibly dumb” energy source. However, Toyota disagrees. The company already has a proven track record with fuel-efficient cars like the Prius hybrid, and Toyota and its home country of Japan are heavily investing in what they call the world’s “hydrogen era.”
The Mirai will be produced in small batches, with only 700 built this year for the U.S., Europe and Japan. Production will ramp up to 2,000 starting next year. The selling price is about $45,000 in the U.S., including about $13,000 in federal and California incentives.
Hyundai is also pushing hydrogen-powers cars, with their Tucson already available in California. Honda’s fuel-cell car is expected next year. Toyota has been a huge advocate of the technology, including opening its 5,000-plus fuel-cell-related patents for free in order to get more fueling stations built and funded. California is investing tens of millions of dollars in 28 new hydrogen refueling station. As of last year the state already had 10.
Japan itself has been investing in self-service hydrogen stations, and offers incentives of about 3 million yen ($25,200) for early buyers of the Mirai. According to Toyota there are already 1,500 orders for the car in Japan. It will be available in the U.S. in fall, 2015.