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Toyota targets renewed interest in hydrogen with new Mirai

Toyota Motor Corp

Toyota targets renewed interest in hydrogen with new Mirai

Japanese carmaker relaunches fuel-cell car with longer range and higher production capacity

The second-generation Mirai went on sale in Japan on Wednesday © Bloomberg

Toyota has achieved a 10-fold increase in production capacity for the launch of its new hydrogen-powered car amid renewed global interest in the fuel as a means of meeting carbon targets.

The second-generation Mirai went on sale in Japan on Wednesday with a sleeker design and longer range of up to 850 kilometres on a single charge. The car, which will launch in the US later this month and by spring in Europe, is available from ¥7.1m ($68,100) but government subsidies will take the cost to consumers below ¥6m. 

Despite the appeal of emitting only water, fuel cell vehicles remain a niche segment of the global car market because of the rise of battery-powered vehicles, the high costs of production and the difficulty of sourcing cheap, carbon-free hydrogen.

But Toyota executives say the new Mirai and its easier-to-produce fuel cell stacks can be catalysts for wider use of hydrogen to fuel not only cars but also trucks and buses as governments study all options for a viable path towards decarbonisation. 

“A key role for the second-generation Mirai is not only to promote the use of passenger cars but to increase the use in commercial vehicles that consume more hydrogen,” said Masahiko Maeda, the Japanese carmaker’s chief technology officer. 

When the first Mirai was released in 2014 Toyota was only able to produce about 2,000 a year because fuel tanks were difficult to make. The company has since sold only 11,000 of them, with sceptics such as Tesla chief executive Elon Musk dismissing hydrogen fuel cells as “mind-bogglingly stupid”. 

But Toyota has now reduced the time it takes to manufacture hydrogen tanks by 66 per cent. The new Mirai, powered by three hydrogen tanks and an electric motor, can be produced on the same manufacturing lines as other mass-produced vehicles, allowing the company to make 30,000 hydrogen vehicles per year. 

With a 90 per cent dependence on energy imports, Japan has long invested in hydrogen technology as an alternative to fossil fuels, but there is a new sense of urgency after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga committed the country to go carbon neutral by 2050. China and Europe have also shown renewed interest in hydrogen use.

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Prakash Sharma, Asia-Pacific head of markets and transitions at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said prospects for the fuel had changed since the launch of the first Mirai. He said there was now a stronger global policy push and the possibility of bringing down the cost of carbon-free hydrogen — produced by using clean energy to electrolyse water — now renewable power is cheaper.

“Green hydrogen project pipeline has grown almost 10 times in the last one year alone,” Mr Sharma said, predicting that annual consumption of 100m tonnes could rise to 500m tonnes by 2050. “Green hydrogen is the new bridge to net zero.”

Analysts, however, say fuel-cell passenger vehicles are unlikely to rival electric vehicles on cost. Credit Suisse predicts that EVs will account for 22 per cent of new car sales by 2030, while FCVs will make up only 2 per cent.

Rival carmakers including Hyundai and Honda are also working on fuel-cell vehicles. Proponents of the technology say it is better suited than EVs to longer-range, heavy use vehicles such as delivery trucks.

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