Toyota Australia (TMCA) is engaged in trials with the first-generation hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) Mirai, and with that in mind is “most certainly looking” at launching the more aesthetic second-gen model.
Revealed publicly for the first time as a near-road-ready ‘concept’ in Tokyo last week, the new five-metre-long Mirai is a huge step-change over its high-tech, but frumpy, predecessor.
It’s low and wide, with a raking GT silhouette, rear-wheel drive, and five seats. A 12.3-inch main display sits proud atop the dash, flanking a large digital instrument display behind the steering wheel.
While the current Mirai does around 500km between refills of pressurised hydrogen, this new one comes with the promise of 30 per cent greater range thanks to a more efficient fuel-cell system and bigger tank.
While the launch countries from late 2020 are core FCEV markets Japan, North America and Europe, Australia has its hand up to be part of the second wave, once refuelling infrastructure becomes more commonplace, to be sold alongside the battery electric vehicles (BEVs) it will launch from 2025-ish.
“We don’t have a firm plan right now to launch it in Australia, but as infrastructure expands we will most certainly be looking at generation-two Mirai,” said TMCA’s vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley. Unsurprisingly.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for Australia, and Australian industry, and I think we will continue to work with government and energy companies and other car manufacturers to make a hydrogen society real, because we truly believe hydrogen FCEVs have a great future in this country.”
That much is obvious, since as we reported in March Toyota and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are co-funding a $7.4 million Hydrogen Centre with an electrolyser and refiller, at the company’s old manufacturing site in Altona, Melbourne.
This has been created initially to service the eight first-generation Mirais that have been loaned to its local council, plus AusNet Services, Mondo and the Australian Hydrogen Council (previously called Hydrogen Mobility Australia).
FCEV tech is still low-profile in Australia, but there’s a lot of attention behind the scenes from the body politic and big private stakeholders.
Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is leading a National Hydrogen Strategy to map out a domestic and export hydrogen sector, with support from the COAG Energy Council, to be implemented from 2020.
This is due to Australia’s copious endowment of potential renewable energy sources that can be stored in hydrogen, and the need to decarbonise our gas supply.
Pressurised hydrogen will also be exported to southeast Asia, where FCEVs are growing quickly, as well for domestic applications such as our large truck and bus fleet that must transition away from diesel to meet future emissions targets, and which suit a back-to-base model with a few refillers to service them.
Toyota is not the only major player in the burgeoning FCEV field. Hyundai has also achieved full certification for the Nexo FCEV crossover, and is exploring future lease programs in a similar vein in Australia starting from 2020 - pending refillers beyond its own in Sydney.
The Hyundai Motor Group, along with its suppliers, plans on spending $9.3 billion on hydrogen fuel-cell development and production upgrades. As part of its FCEV Vision 2030 plan, the company aims to build 700,000 fuel-cell systems per year by 2030.
Other players in the space include Audi, whose CEO Bram Schot recently pledged to "put more priority into hydrogen fuel cells – more money, more capacity of people and more confidence", and early adopter Honda with its Clarity road car.
You might also recall the BMW i Hydrogen Next unveiled at the 2019 Frankfurt motor show in September, which is said to preview a production car coming around 2022. Rival Mercedes-Benz put the GLC F-Cell, a plug-in fuel-cell hybrid vehicle, into production and on sale in Germany last year.
Renault also unveiled hydrogen range-extender versions of the Kangoo and Master vans last week.
FCEVs: How do they work?
Pressurised hydrogen is pumped into the car’s tanks, passed through a membranous fuel cell stack where it’s mixed with atmospheric oxygen, and becomes usable electricity to power the motor. The emission from this is H2O – water, you chemistry buffs – and heat.
It’s a BEV that has its own on-board power station, rather than needing an external powerpoint or fast-charger. This means that battery arrays, if you want to fit them, need only be small to supplement the system and capture the excess through brake regeneration.
Pictured: Hyundai Nexo
Of course, there are issues. Hydrogen – an abundant element that usually exists as part of another compound – is often mass produced through a technique called natural gas reforming, which produces CO2, though it’s still cleaner than driving a car with fossil fuel.
But creating hydrogen at scale can also be done with renewables, and global CO2 reduction targets have led many to believe this will become an essential part of our energy production, security and storage as we go forward. California already requires 33 per cent of commercial hydrogen gas to be sourced this way, and that figure will climb.
According to Chinese media, that country's 'installed capacity' of hydrogen fuel cells has surged 650 percent year-on-year despite a subsidy withdrawal from the new energy vehicles (NEVs) sector, according to industry data.
And let's recall quotes from Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe this year. "My government is aiming to reduce the production cost of hydrogen by at least 90 per cent by the year 2050, to make it cheaper than natural gas," he said.