While undoubtedly both clever and worthy, the Toyota Mirai has up to now singularly failed to ignite automotive lust at ten paces, but this could be about to change.
Bypassing me and virtually everyone else it would seem, is the fact that you can now pop into a Toyota showroom and purchase a hydrogen powered car. Well, in theory. Reality always tastes differently, for you’d have to meet many and varied criteria, more of which later.
What began for the company that originally built looms as the Fuel Cell Vehicle experiment, continues with the Mirai (Japanese for The Future), which Toyota brought to the UK market in 2016. Prior to this, you needed to be Californian or Japanese to steer one. Few did. Numbers suggest a little over 5000 sold globally. In Blighty, we’ve scraped into the teens – just. Sales were never meant to trouble the Corolla, or indeed the Prius, cherished by those of status deemed celebrity.
Knocking on the door of £70k for a Camry sized car but with a hybridisation cross of Prius and Avensis bodies, she ain’t pretty. But if beauty is only skin deep then we need to look deeper. Experiments with using hydrogen to provide forward motion is, like so many things, nothing new. Evidence suggests that the first vehicle with an internal combustion engine ran on hydrogen.
The Rivaz from Switzerland dates from 1807 but seems to have been an experiment and little else. Then vehicles were modified to run on Element number 1. During the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, two hundred GAZ trucks were altered from petrol to hydrogen in just ten days – desperate times producing incredible results. The very first fuel cell vehicle was in fact a tractor from Allis Chalmers, made in 1955.
Car manufacturers began to get tentatively involved from this point with the Japanese Institute of Technology Musashi giving the world the imaginatively titled ‘1’ in 1974. Nine more vehicles from Musashi arrived over time, using Datsun and Toyota bodies with changed internals. GM, Mercedes, BMW, Mazda and Toyota took notice, entering the fray with the Japanese especially introducing some pretty wild looking body styles.
Acceleration into the technology needed to keep the fuel safe took hold. Unless you’re an American film director, cars rarely explode. The storage of high pressure hydrogen adds a different dimension insofar as the tank must be far stronger than that of a typical fossil fuelled car.
Referring back to the looms, Toyota used some of their history, blending it with carbon fibre to weave a tank – well, the middle section. Inside is a polymer layer which is then wrapped in the carbon fibre weave with an outer of glass reinforced polymer able to hold 700 bar pressure of gas. Actually, these tanks can handle double that pressure. That’s over 10,000psi. Sat beneath your derrière and perfectly safe should the unthinkable occur.
The bugbear as with car construction for many moons is weight. All that packaging and wrapping of stuff adds crucial kilograms to the final tally. The Mirai is an un-Lotus like 1.8 tonnes. That’s quite comparable to most saloon sized vehicles today and far less chunky than the currently beloved SUV brigade.
Autocar reviewed the Mirai and at the time were impressed by the car’s overall feel, the technological aspects along with low down torque. They were not so enamoured with the costs, practicality and that old chestnut of filling it up. If you lived in Hendon, near Heathrow or commute to Swindon you were well covered by the three high capacity filling stations. Any further and you’d need to plan very carefully. Does the AA carry spare hydrogen canisters?
As of today, the infrastructure is growing. My own town of Sheffield is the base of ITM, the UK’s leader in clean fuels. Even Rotherham has a filling station which is saying something. Plans to open fresh locations for Birmingham and close to Gatwick are pushing on.
Naturally the M25 corridor along with the aforementioned mean London is well catered for. And should you wish to head (very far) North, Kirkwall on Orkney is all ‘gen-ed up. You have to register for an ITM refuelling card, and whilst the process seems a little long winded, can’t be that far from your Friday night fill up routine.
Toyota were seeking viable companies and government departments to sample the Mirai by paying for the fuel, maintenance and tyres in a £750 per month lease deal; far better than stumping up the £66,000 purchase fee. And they get some real world data along with used coffee cups, family detritus and how it looks constantly dirty.
And then browsing Autocropley the other day, Toyota plan to show this in Tokyo. Wow! Toyota have made hydrogen sexy. If this manages to make
it production as is, I’m more than prepared to travel through bandit country to fill up. Early reports suggest improved everything by large percentages which is all said and good. But will they build it like this? Will I be able to commute in a svelte saloon producing nobbut water and pure thoughts as I desperately search for my IMT card? Can I ever leave Rotherham?
It’ll probably have to be a second (or more) hand new generation Mirai for me but being Japanese, producing only water, where’s the worry? Keep ‘yer extension cables: I want my propulsion by hydrogen, ta. Now, can I drive to Wales? Ireland? Anywhere but bloody Rotherham.
http://www.itm-power.com for more info including a video on filling up the Mirai.