Australians will be able to buy a hydrogen-powered car within “a couple of years” – as soon as enough refuelling points are installed so motorists aren’t left stranded.
Japanese car giant Toyota and South Korean conglomerate Hyundai launched hydrogen-car fleet trails in Australia within days of each other earlier this month – though the latter was first to register its fleet locally.
Both brands have fleets of 20 hydrogen-powered vehicles each – Toyota in Melbourne and Hyundai in Canberra – and are in a neck-and-neck race to fast-track the rollout of the future tech.
However, Toyota is already gearing up to make the Mirai hydrogen car available for the public to buy within two to three years from now.
In the meantime, Toyota and Hyundai are only allowing specialised fleets to run its test vehicles in trail scenarios, as there is only one refuelling point in Canberra and one in Melbourne. There is a third refuelling point behind Hyundai's head office in Sydney.
However, other hydrogen refuelling stations are due to come on stream in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in the next two to three years; in Europe hydrogen is available alongside petrol and diesel bowsers at selected service stations.
When asked if it would be at least five to 10 years before hydrogen-powered cars would be available for the public to buy locally, a senior Toyota Australia executive told CarAdvice “I think it’s probably less than that”.
“I think it's a couple of years,” said Sean Hanley, Toyota Australia’s head of sales and marketing. “I'm not thinking it’s five years … I'm thinking it might be two to three years away.”
Above: A fleet of Toyota Mirai hydrogen cars in Melbourne ahead of the start of this year's trial.
Toyota says it will handle the rollout of the Mirai hydrogen car at first, but eventually it will be sold alongside the Corolla, Camry, RAV4, and HiLux in suburban showrooms.
“We've said to our dealer network initially we'll manage the Mirai launch, only because the infrastructure is limited,” said Mr Hanley.
“But it’s our full intention – and I'm on record as talking to our own dealer network – (that) as soon as we get some more widespread refuelling options, our intention is the Mirai will be sold as a mainstream vehicle by all our Toyota dealers.”
Market leader Toyota has dominated hybrid sales over the past 20 years, and says it now wants to lead the way with hydrogen power.
Hydrogen or “fuel cell” cars use hydrogen to create electricity which, in turn, charges an onboard battery pack and/or powers an electric motor to drive the wheels. They can be refuelled in five minutes and driven about 600km between stops, much like a petrol car.
It could be a long road to a hydrogen future, however, and the technology won’t suit everyone.
Toyota said its hybrid technology is “not a transitional strategy” and is “here to stay”.
However, hydrogen cars will be just one of Toyota’s showroom options in the future.
For now, pricing is yet to be revealed. However, based on overseas markets, hydrogen cars currently cost the equivalent of $100,000 to $120,000. It is hoped the cars will become cheaper as the cost of the technology is amortised.
While the Mirai “won't be the cheapest car on [the] market” said Mr Hanley, the price could come down “as we get more scale and as we build more infrastructure”.
“We want to try to get as many customers as possible,” he said. “We want to get customers into that car. We want them to experience it … we want their feedback. We want them to talk about hydrogen.”
While it was too early to speculate on price, the Toyota executive said: “We will try to make (the price of a hydrogen car) as attainable as possible. But … I don't want to mislead anyone, it's not a cheap technology.”