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Meet the first Toyota Mirai and the big, expensive plan to keep this hydrogen car alive

Melissa Riofrio | Nov. 12, 2015
With just one fueling station available, the race is on to build more stations so Toyota can sell more cars.

2016 toyota mirai fuel cell vehicle hydrogen station
Credit: Toyota

The first Toyota Mirai to be sold in the United States might as well be the first car on Mars. It lands on a planet that can’t easily support hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. It’s kept alive only by elaborate and expensive means. The car and its creator face huge odds yet remain determined to, as the hero of the recent movie The Martian put it, “science the shit out of this.”

Toyota and its partners might as well be making a space station. A lot of science—and money—is going toward the fueling infrastructure for the Mirai. They’re starting from zero, and it’s all costly, complicated stuff: hydrogen production, ideally by cleaner means. Better distribution. Many more hydrogen stations.  

2016 toyota mirai 3qtr front 
The 2016 Toyota Mirai’s exterior design includes dramatic swoops and creases, and a deep front grille. Credit: Melissa Riofrio

The enormity of the mission hung over the small group that gathered Monday at Roseville Toyota, north of Sacramento, to watch the first Mirai's excited owner get his key fob. Unlike hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles from Honda and Hyundai, which exist within tightly controlled lease programs, the Toyota Mirai can be purchased outright ($58,325 not counting federal and state incentives or other savings programs), or leased. It will eventually have to survive on its own, on whatever infrastructure it can find.  

After the first Mirai drove away, I got to drive a second one, on a long loop through suburban streets and a bit of Highway 80. I hadn’t seen the Mirai since I drove a prototype a year ago. With its dramatic swoops and creases, and its jowly front grille, it actually looks more space-agey than it did before.

2016 toyota mirai rear view 
The distinctive contours and creases of the 2016 Toyota Mirai telegraph "geeky." Credit: Melissa Riofrio

Toyota might take a hint from the 2016 Chevy Volt and make future designs less quirky. On the other hand, there’s no mistaking that you’re driving a different kind of car.

The Mirai’s mission: clean exhaust

The hydrogen fuel cell payoff—the reason the Mirai just might be worth your investment—is clean energy, at least at the tailpipe end.

The Mirai is basically an electric vehicle that uses hydrogen fuel-cell technology to charge its battery. Hydrogen reacts within the fuel cell to produce electricity. This electricity charges the battery, which powers a motor that drives the car. Leftover hydrogen ions combine with oxygen to produce water, and that’s the Mirai’s only exhaust. (Toyota noted that the exhaust is distilled water and safe to drink, though flat-tasting.) 

 

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