Future is finally closer. In a video message, Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s boss, says that this new sedan announced a “turning point in the automotive industry.”
Toyota has managed the unthinkable. To sell this technology, which combines hydrogen, a flammable gas in contact with air, with oxygen to produce electricity and water at a relatively affordable price: 7,000,000 yen, slightly less than 50 000 euros.
The vehicle, produced in series, will be first sold in Japan, and in mid-2015, in the United States and Europe.
“To arrive at these rates, confided in March Soichiro Okudaira, one of the CEOs of Toyota, you have to play on all costs: improving the efficiency of electric cells to reduce the number and therefore the price, reduce the number and the size of the tanks or even lower platinum input needed for catalysis which enables the production of energy.”
Competing models and projects
Just like an electric car, the car fuel cell emits neither pollution nor CO2 when it is running. This is an advanced technology highly anticipated in cities. But unlike an electric vehicle, charging hydrogen vehicle only takes a few minutes. With a full tank, Toyota ensures that its Mirai will have a range of 480 kilometers.
In 2002, the Japanese group had already leased a hydrogen powered 4×4 vehicle in Japan and the US, while its competitors were mobilizing.
Hyundai introduced in 2013 a 1×35 serial product, urban 4×4, with a hydrogen engine. Honda intends to market fuel cell sedan in 2015-2016.
In the US, General Motors is working on prototypes since 1966, while Renault-Nissan, Mercedes and Ford have teamed to develop this technology.
PSA conducted research programs, as Gilles Le Borgne, director of research and development of the group, confided in spring: “We are following this trend, but this is not the priority today because there are still many outstanding questions about the storage of hydrogen, distribution or the overall energy balance of these vehicles.”
In fact, producing energy is very expensive in… energy. According to the French Petroleum Institute, 96% of hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), which is not worth its “carbon footprint”.
Few or no fill-up stations
Air Liquide, the first developer of hydrogen today, says that “studies show that the complete chain coupled with hydrogen fuel cell allows driving with half as much CO2 emissions.”
Finally, like electrical terminals, which are missing at the time of the development of electric vehicle sales, the number of hydrogen refueling stations is now almost non-existent.
In its home country, France, Air Liquide, the specialist of hydrogen, has two stations. In Germany, a deployment program has 100 service stations is underway, 50% funded by the federal government.
In short, Mirai is in the distant future. But Toyota doesn’t mind. “It took fifteen years to build the hybrid, says Mr. Okudaira. It will take a long time to impose hydrogen.”