Toyota has ‘fully rebooted’ the second-generation Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) for an evolving automotive arena. While the first-generation Mirai was a four-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan with a decidedly futuristic design, the new Mirai is Toyota’s flagship sedan, a premium, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports-luxury car in the vein of the Lexus LS, on whose GA-L platform the Mirai is now based. It’s offered in XLE and Limited trim levels, with corresponding differences in equipment and interior materials.
The new Mirai is larger in every dimension except height, more powerful, and has a longer cruising range. Its four-wheel independent multi-link suspension, replacing the previous car’s strut-type front and rear beam axle, improves the car’s handling and performance, as does the change to rear-wheel-drive and the configuration of its new fuel cell system. In combination, those latter two revisions give the Mirai a near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
The fuel cell stack in the new-generation Mirai, like the one in its predecessor, takes in hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity without combustion to power its rear-drive motor. Water vapor is the only emissions produced during the process. The stack is about 20 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter, and now fits under the sedan’s hood. A new power control unit and other changes to the stack result in a 12-percent power increase, boosting the Mirai’s rear-drive motor output to 182 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque (versus the outgoing model’s 151 horsepower and 247 lb-ft).
Electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery that’s smaller, lighter, and has greater capacity than the Mirai’s previous nickel-metal-hydride battery. The battery rides between the rear seat and the trunk. Three 10,000-psi carbon-fiber-reinforced tanks hold about 11 pounds of hydrogen, giving the Mirai 402 miles of range in XLE models, and 357 in the Limited. Toyota is continuing the practice of offering up to $15,000 of complimentary hydrogen with each Mirai.
Inside the Mirai are seats trimmed in SofTex synthetic leather. The dashboard is dominated by two digital displays, an 8-inch LCD gauge cluster in front of the driver and a 12.3-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash to operate the climate control, infotainment, and navigation systems. To bring down cabin temperatures and reduce the load on the Mirai’s air-conditioning system, Toyota engineers installed extra insulation in the roof and added UV protection in the side windows.
Both Mirai models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+, a suite of active safety systems with several enhanced functions. Among them is the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, which not only registers a vehicle ahead but a bicyclist or pedestrian in front of that vehicle.
Initially the Mirai is available in California only, but Toyota says it is fully optimized for cold-weather operation, hinting that broader availability may be in the works. The Mirai XLE is priced at $49,500 with the uplevel Limited coming in at $66,000 before substantial federal and California state incentives, and potential Toyota incentives as well.
While hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles represent but a blip on the radar at present, there has been a 300 percent growth in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles sold in 2016, with an unprecedented 2500 FCVs making it to highways. It’s an important development in a field that has been striving to gain traction for some time. In fact, several mainstream automakers look to FCVs as the logical path to mass market vehicle electrification.
“Despite the growth, the number of fuel cell vehicles sold and leased are minuscule compared to the market,” says Naqi Jaffery, president and CEO of Information Trends. “However, the growth portends well for the future of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Information Trends’ report, Global Market for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles 2017, points out that California grew the fastest in terms of sales and leases, but remained behind Japan in terms of volume.
To date, Toyota’s Mirai FCV leads the global market with 2,000 units produced and placed with consumers in 2016. The Hyundai Tucson FCV is a distant second, trailed by Honda Clarity. The Clarity, however, is just getting ramped up with a major commitment by Honda.
As Japan implements its ‘hydrogen society’ efforts and California expands the state’s hydrogen fueling network, Green Car Journal anticipates a continued market growth momentum in the rarified fuel cell electric car segment.
Many believe hydrogen to have the greatest potential of all alternative fuels, not only for vehicles but as a primary energy source for all aspects of life. Used in fuel cells to electrochemically create electricity for powering a vehicle’s electric motors, hydrogen produces no emissions other than water vapor and heat. There are no CO2 or other greenhouse gases.
While hydrogen is largely extracted from methane today, there are bigger things on the horizon. Hydrogen is a virtually unlimited resource when electrolyzing water using solar- or wind-generated electricity, a process that splits H2O (water) into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) molecules. Water covers much of the Earth’s surface and is the most abundant compound on the planet.
This has been on the mind of auto manufacturers for years. In fact, editors have experienced many test drives of prototypes and concepts running on hydrogen power for years, like our time behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5 Miata concept more than two decades ago, along with others from BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and more.
Along with their own independent hydrogen vehicle development programs, some automakers like GM and Honda are working cooperatively to develop next-generation fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage. Others are working with hydrogen fuel suppliers and state governments to develop an expanded hydrogen fueling network.
In recent years, Honda has been leasing its FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan to limited numbers of consumers in California and Hyundai has recently followed suit with its Tucson Fuel Cell crossover vehicle, also available to limited numbers of consumers in California where hydrogen refueling is more readily available. Both Honda and Toyota have announced plans to introduce next-generation production fuel cell vehicles for consumers shortly.
As with any game-changing technology, hydrogen vehicles come with their challenges. Hydrogen vehicles are presently quite costly to produce, although their cost to consumers who lease them will surely be subsidized by manufacturers until this field matures. The production of ‘green’ hydrogen through electrolysis and other means is also presently limited and costly, plus the nation’s hydrogen refueling infrastructure is extremely sparse, although growing.
The hydrogen vehicle field continues to evolve. A recent study by Sandia National focused on 70 gas stations in California – the state with the largest number of existing hydrogen stations – to determine if any could add hydrogen fueling based on requirements of the 2011 NFPA 2 hydrogen technologies code. The conclusion is that 14 of the 70 stations explored could readily accept hydrogen fuel, with an additional 17 potentially able to integrate hydrogen with property expansions. In this light, expanding the network of hydrogen stations may be more straightforward than previously thought.
Even amid these challenges, with major commitments from automakers like Honda, Toyota, GM, and others in Europe and Asia, hydrogen vehicles are a very real and exciting possibility for the road ahead.