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Toyota’s fuel-cell powered Mirai – nail in electric coffin?

Published: Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:35:14 GMT

Toyota Mirai Fuel-Cell montage

Open quote signThis week’s launch of Toyota’s fuel-cell powered Mirai, due to go on sale in Japan December 15th, has so dramatically raised the bar in the hotly debated field of true sustainable future automotive mobility that, overnight, it has made pure electric cars seem yesterday’s news.

A true technology leader is surely one who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way. 

And yet, this industry is littered with brave but futile and cash-draining attempts to follow this path. 

Mercedes for one, with its first attempt to create a market for two-seater town cars, was convinced that that was the future.

Shame then, that motorists the world over didn’t quite see it that way. In consequence, Daimler’s Smart project stands out as a big black hole, that, as cars go, probably ranks to date as its biggest cash-burn. 

GM’s and Renault-Nissan’s hugely cash-draining attempt to create a global market for electric cars at their first attempts plainly failed to live up to their creators’ optimistic initial projections. 

Failures, it seems, there are many, but success stories are extremely rare indeed. Toyota, in the hybrid world is one. 

A risky move back in 1997. Its highly innovative and well thought through Prius - the world’s first volume produced petrol-electric hybrid car - instantly crowned Toyota as the world's greenest carmaker. 

So in spite of poor odds to succeed in the automotive world of petrol-electric hybrids, Toyota’s gamble has paid off. 

A view underlined by the realisation that way back in 1997 just 300 Toyota hybrids were sold. It took Toyota just over ten years to sell its first 1 million hybrids. 

Just over half a dozen years further down the road, Toyota will build and sell well over a million hybrids this year alone.

Yes, hybrids have remained largely a domestic Japanese story, helped by an encouraging pick-up in the petrol dominated US vehicle market. 

So far this year just over half of Toyota’s hybrids were sold at home and just over a quarter found US buyers. 

The rest of the world, including China and the whole of Europe, shared the remaining 12.8 per cent. Nevertheless, at least for Toyota, with 1.2 million plus annual hybrid sales, there is a business case. 

Unlike its main rivals, Toyota gave pure electric cars a miss, poo-pooing the technology as little more than a fleeting stop gap to better and longer lasting solutions further afield. 

The progressive step to what Toyota and some visionaries now see as the most likely step towards sustainable mobility has been wheeled out this week. 

Not as a concept or an experimental mule, but a ready to go production car.

Toyota’s innovative Mirai fuel-cell powered car, priced at Yen7,236,000 (€48,863) before government subsidies, is about to go on sale in domestic Japan. 

That’s followed in a year from now with its showroom debut in the US and Europe. In California, in a year from now it is priced - also excluding government subsidies - at $57,500. 

 $499 for a 36 month period

There is also a monthly lease price of $499 for a 36 month period. 

Mirai’s future-proof party trick? A range of approximately 480km on one tank of fuel. 

Refuelling time? Just 3 minutes. 

With its fuel-cell powered Mirai Toyota expects to sell just a couple of hundred in the first year, likely followed by a mere couple of thousand annual sales each during the second and third year. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Given Toyota’s gilt-edged track record, it’s surely not far fetched to presume that for its Mirai fuel-cell powered car it may take less than 16 years to reach the 1 million annual global sales figure. 

Yes, Mirai’s future commercial success is totally dependent on the future distribution of hydrogen fuel. 

On this issue too, Toyota’s hybrid-tested visionaries also have a viable plan readily to hand. 

This is indeed a bad day for pure electric cars and all those who bet the house on them. 

No wonder Daimler cashed its Tesla shares
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