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Toyota’s Mirai hails hydrogen future
Toyota is one of two manufacturers to launch a hydrogen-powered car in Aus this year.
It’s taken two decades for hybrid vehicles to gain mainstream acceptance in Australia, but the company that pioneered that technology is expecting a much faster uptake of hydrogen fuel-cell power.
Toyota is one of two manufacturers to launch a hydrogen-powered model in Australia this year – the other is Hyundai – and company executives have suggested that more models will be offered with hydrogen power in the future, including heavy and light-commercial vehicles.
Toyota launched its first hybrid model, the Prius, in Australia in 2001, and at the time it was a niche model that sold in small numbers. Toyota gradually rolled out hybrid tech to other models, and now offers hybrid variants of nine models, including the RAV4, Yaris, Corolla and more.
Sales have increased significantly as Australians realise the cost and environmental benefits of hybrid cars. In 2015 Toyota sold 8207 hybrids. In 2020, Australians bought 54,335 Toyota hybrids, making up more than a quarter of the company’s overall volume and nearly doubling the 27,846 hybrids it sold in 2019.
The second-generation Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) arrived in April, replacing the original model that was offered to a small number of fleets from 2018. Just 20 examples of the new model are available in 2021 to interested corporate and government fleets on a 36-month/60,000-kilometre lease contract costing $1750 per month for three years, which includes fuel.
Toyota Australia vice president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley says he expects private buyers will be able to buy a Mirai soon, as long as the refuelling infrastructure expands.
“The path to mainstream sales for fuel-cell electric vehicles will be quicker than for hybrids. We expect Mirai to become more readily available to our dealers within two to three years, accelerating as the refuelling infrastructure grows,” he says. “There were no petrol stations when the first car was driven back in the 19th century, yet the global auto industry now produces 80 million vehicles a year.”
Sean added that the Mirai’s long driving range of 650 kilometres means “you really don’t need a hydrogen refueller on every corner”.
Currently there is only one hydrogen refuelling station in Victoria, located at the recently opened $7.4 million Toyota Hydrogen Centre on the site of its former Altona manufacturing plant. The CSIRO has announced it’s building a refueller at its Clayton campus in Melbourne’s south-east, a public refuelling station opened in Canberra last month, and Hyundai Australia has a refueller at its Macquarie Park headquarters in Sydney’s north. There are plans for further stations in Perth, Brisbane, Western Sydney and Port Kembla.
Toyota Australia manager of future technologies and mobility Matt Macleod says the lack of refuelling infrastructure in Australia presents a “chicken and egg” challenge, hindering the availability of hydrogen cars here.
“The key to rolling out these types of models, whether it is ours or a competitor’s, is to have a cluster of stations.”
Mirai’s long driving range of 650 kilometres means “you really don’t need a hydrogen refueller on every corner”.
A Toyota spokesperson says that at this stage Toyota had no plans to financially support further refuelling stations, however “we will not rule out future partnerships if a collaborative approach will speed up infrastructure and the uptake of FCEVs. We will continue working with government and industry partners to support the further development of the hydrogen economy.”
Toyota Australia general manager of product planning Rod Ferguson says there is “definitely potential” for Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell tech to be used in other applications beyond the Mirai sedan, such as light and heavy-commercial vehicles. “We are launching this type of car now, but the potential exists across a range of heavier vehicles, or light trucks or trains or buses, definitely. It’s technology well suited to back-to-base or quick refuelling.”
Toyota and its truck arm, Hino, are currently developing hydrogen-powered light trucks for Japan and heavy-duty trucks for the US market. Industry leaders, including Hyundai Australia’s Scott Nargar, have predicted that everything that runs on petrol today will be battery-electric-powered in the future, while what is diesel-powered today will one day be hydrogen-powered. So we can envisage a future where passenger cars and SUVs will be battery electric, while pick-ups and rugged off-roaders run on hydrogen. Toyota hasn’t confirmed it, but we could see future HiLuxes and LandCruisers using hydrogen power.
While Sean Hanley is confident the Mirai will be available for wider sale through Toyota’s dealer network within three years, he won’t be drawn on pricing for private buyers. He adds that hydrogen will be one part of Toyota’s eco-car strategy alongside battery-electric and hybrid vehicles.
“When we launched Prius 20 years ago it wasn’t a cheap car. Let’s not hide from the fact that this is not cheap technology. This is expensive technology. But like hybrid, as it evolves, as infrastructure expands, it scales up, prices come down, and it will be more competitive.
“To what level over what timing? Again, we will have to wait and see. But right now we see it as a clean, good alternative future in the electrification space, but not in isolation. There will be other alternatives as well.”
The Mirai powertrain features a 330-cell fuel-cell stack, three compressed-hydrogen tanks, a lithium-ion battery and an electric motor. The fuel-cell stack draws in air that is purified and fed into the fuel stack where the oxygen combines with hydrogen in a chemical reaction to produce electrical energy. The energy is stored in either the battery or the motor and the Mirai’s only emission is water vapour.