Toyota Working on Smaller, Cheaper Mirai Fuel-Cell Car
To increase the reach of its hybrid cars, Toyota launched the Prius C subcompact in 2012 as a smaller, less expensive alternative to the Prius Liftback that’s the linchpin of its lineup. Now, Toyota says it may be planning to do something similar with its Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
The 2016 Toyota Mirai was launched last year in Japan, Europe, and North America. Its initial sales have been modest, and it is sold only in areas where hydrogen-fueling infrastructure is up and running. But according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Toyota is planning to launch a smaller, less expensive model of the Mirai.
The new, smaller Mirai model will debut before the 2020 Olympics take place in Tokyo, according to the paper, likely meaning in 2019. Toyota is a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, and has long planned to use the event to publicize its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle technology to the billions of people who watch the event on television.
It remains unclear whether a smaller and less expensive Mirai would be a second-generation design that supplants the current car, or an additional model below it.
The new Mirai would be priced about 20% percent lower than the existing four-seat Mirai sedan. That’s about the same price reduction the Prius C offers versus the 2016 Toyota Prius liftback model. The company feels it could sell 30,000 or more hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles a year by 2020, it said.
But that total will depend on the rollout of hydrogen fueling infrastructure, which is lagging in Japan as well as in California (the single current U.S. market for hydrogen vehicles). Toyota’s home country now has roughly 80 hydrogen stations.
Toyota is both Japan’s largest carmaker and the industry’s most ardent proponent of hydrogen vehicles over plug-in electric vehicles. It has urged more rapid deployment of the sites that will be required to fuel the cars it hopes to sell, in Japan and the U.S.
The California Fuel Cell Partnership website indicates that as of today, there are 11 operating retail hydrogen stations and five non-retail stations in the region, with another 12 in development. As of the end of last month, Toyota had sold 210 Mirais in the U.S. since sales began last October, the bulk of them in Southern California.
The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell crossover SUV was offered for lease earlier in 2015, and the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan will go on sale before the end of this year. No other makers have announced concrete plans to offer hydrogen-powered vehicles for sale in North America.