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Ready or not the Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle is coming to California this fall, let's see if the new FCEV sedan can woo EV fans away from Tesla.

Clean Transport

Toyota Moves Forward Rolling Out Its Mirai Fuel Cell EV

Ready or not the Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle is coming to California this fall, let’s see if the new FCEV sedan can woo EV fans away from Tesla.

In terms of publicity, Tesla Motors has pretty much cornered the electric vehicle scene. However, Toyota did promise delivery of a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle for the hot California auto market this year, and the company is cranking up the ol’ publicity machine in advance of the expected October 2015 arrival date of its hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan.

Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle

Don’t Look Back…

None of this is bound to cause any sleepless nights for Elon Musk, CEO of the much-publicized battery electric vehicle company Tesla Motors, who once famously described fuel cell electric vehicles as BS.

However, BS or not, Toyota is going full steam ahead with rollout plans for the Mirai FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle). Last week, the company announced the launch of a new online consumer request portal for prospective customers in California. Among the details are these:

The Mirai hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle…has the highest EPA estimated driving range rating of any zero emission electric vehicle on the market, at 312 miles, and offers an EPA estimated 67 mpge city/highway/combined.

…MSRP will be $57,500 plus an $835 destination fee.

…Trailblazer Lease: $499 per month for 36 months, $3,649 due at signing

Three years’ worth of complimentary fuel.
Three years complimentary Safety Connect and Entune, including hydrogen station finder app.
Three years of 24/7 customer call support.

That three years’ worth of free fuel looks mighty attractive. Although, according to some reports the hydrogen fueling station infrastructure in California is not quite up to snuff yet.

On the other hand, Toyota, Honda, and the state of California have been spending dollars to build out the infrastructure. Last year, the company First Element Fuel won a $27.6 million contract to install more hydrogen stations in California, and last fall, Honda sank another $18 million or so into refueling infrastructure in the state.

The US Department of Energy is also looking ahead to a national fuel cell refueling network, the latest development being a $1 million competition for small-scale, on-site hydrogen generation and refueling.

…Something Might Be Gaining On You

In the race for the hearts and minds of EV owners, fuel cells are still an unfulfilled promise. Batteries clearly have the upper hand now, but Toyota is fond of pointing out that pretty much all of today’s transportation technology was once perceived as wishful thinking if not outright lunacy, so there’s that.

For those of you new to the fuel cell topic, hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. As with battery EVs, the idea is that you get zero emissions at the tailpipe:

Toyota fuel cell electric vehicle 2

On Toyota’s side of the argument, hydrogen itself is an abundant element, and hydrogen gas has an enviable energy density when compressed.

Hydrogen is primarily sourced from fossil natural gas at present, so that’s a black eye. As more sustainable hydrogen sources emerge, the difference in fuel lifecycle issues could begin to narrow. (However, due to the fundamental economics of retrieving hydrogen from natural gas reformation versus splitting water from electricity from renewable resources, such a shift would basically have to be forced through regulation.)

Earlier this spring, the energy company Sempra teamed its SoCalGas division with the University of California-Irvine and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for one such water-splitting project, using either solar or wind energy.

That brings us around to Toyota’s research partnership with NREL. The agency has been testing out four Toyota Highlander hybrid fuel cell vehicles, with hydrogen sourced from water through solar and wind energy.

The Toyota loaners are part of several NREL initiatives aimed at evaluating real-world FCEV performance and sustainable hydrogen sourcing.

Follow The Money

Things must be moving in the right direction, because the launch of the new Mirai customer portal wasn’t the only news out of Toyota last week. The company also announced the creation of a new fund for “pioneering technologies” relating to hydrogen, among other subjects.

The new fund won’t be formally launched until this fall, so details are pretty thin except that it pairs Toyota with two powerhouses,  Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) and SPARX Group Co., Ltd., in the furtherance of this goal:

By establishing this fund, [Toyota] hopes to gain broad and timely access to valuable information about future technologies and market trends, which can then be incorporated into its business strategy… SMBC hopes to play a leading role in facilitating economic growth through the establishment of a socially meaningful fund for developing next-generation technologies… SPARX Group wants to further emphasize a long-term approach to investment in future growth, and hopes to open up new fields as an investment company to help build the society of the future.

Not for nothing, but didn’t we just hear a certain candidate for US president talk about that “long-term growth” thing? Just throwing that out there, by way of taking a closer look at SPARX.

SPARX aims to be the “most trusted and respected investment company in the world,” which is nice and all, but what’s really interesting is its renewable energy mandate from the Japanese government.

SPARX’s renewable energy fund was launched in 2012. Here’s the rundown from Bloomberg:

The fund will start with initial capital of 1.5 billion yen ($19 million) from the government as early as October and will expand to about 20 billion yen, Chief Executive Officer Shuhei Abe said. The fund will mainly invest in projects including mega-solar and wind-power plants in Japan…

Stay tuned.

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Images (photo and screenshot) via Toyota Motor Company.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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