Toyota Mirai to run on hydrogen fuel cells, widen green-vehicle divide
Toyota this week officially rolled out what it’s betting will mark “a turning point” in automotive history — a sleek, affordable, eco-friendly “future” car that can drive for 300 miles, takes less than five minutes to charge and comes with three years of free fuel.
It’s everything haters of gas-guzzling car culture could love. And the biggest name in electric cars hates it.
Toyota’s Mirai will be one of the first mass-market cars to run on hydrogen fuel cells, which convert compressed hydrogen gas to electricity, leaving water vapor as the only exhaust. As opposed to getting plugged in overnight, the sedan will need only about three minutes to get back to full charge, a huge boon for persuading the world’s drivers to convert to a cleaner ride.
But the green technology has found a surprisingly forceful critic in Elon Musk, the electric car pioneer and founder of Tesla Motors, maker of battery-powered cars like the Model S. Musk has called hydrogen fuel cells “extremely silly” and “fool cells,” with his main critique being that hydrogen is too difficult to produce, store and turn efficiently to fuel, diverting attention from even better sources of clean energy.
“If you’re going to pick an energy source mechanism, hydrogen is an incredibly dumb one to pick,” Musk said last month. “It doesn’t make sense, and that will become apparent in the next few years.”
Bob Carter, a Toyota senior vice president, slapped back at Musk last month by criticizing his sole focus on battery-powered cars: “If I was in a position where I had all my eggs in one basket, I would perhaps be making those same comments.”
The electric car infighting has opened a huge division over the future of zero-emission cars. Although they make little sense anywhere else now but California, home of the nation’s few hydrogen refueling stations, Toyota and its home country of Japan are investing heavily into ushering in what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called the world’s “hydrogen era.”
The Mirai is an absolute oddity, even in the world’s still-small green car market. Workers will hand-craft the cars without help of conveyor belt, turning out only three a day, Toyota said. The small-batch operation will roll out 700 this year for the United States, Japan and Europe, which it will increase to 2,000 starting next year.
At 300 miles, the four-seat Mirai offers the longest range of any electric vehicle on the market. Tesla’s $80,000 Model S gets 265 miles.
Toyota plans to sell the Mirai for about $45,000 in the United States, starting next year. It will sell to the public in Japan next month.