Futuristic Toyota Mirai fuel-cell vehicle is hand-assembled in a tiny workshop

Willie Grace | 2/24/2015, 1:36 p.m. | Updated on 2/24/2015, 1:36 p.m.
The disparities are stark between the petite workshop making Toyota’s futuristic Mirai fuel cell sedan and the massive assembly lines ...
A look at the small shop where just 13 workers assemble the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle.

The Mirai went on sale in the home market on Dec. 15, and Toyota had booked 1,500 orders in Japan by Jan. 22. Sales in Europe and the U.S. begin by year’s end. In the U.S., Toyota will sell the Mirai for $57,500; federal and California incentives of about $13,000 will lower the price to consumers.

Toyoda conceded sales would be slow in the startup. “The Mirai has yet to prove itself useful in the daily lives of consumers, and we will now be expected to show its true worth,” Toyoda said. “We can keep moving along this road, step by step.”

Spurring adoption

Selling more hydrogen cars is a chicken-and-egg problem. People are reluctant to buy the cars because there is no widespread refueling network. But there is limited refueling because so few people are buying the cars. Toyota thinks both sales and infrastructure will grow if more companies made fuel cell cars.

To spur adoption of the technology, Toyota said last month it will allow rivals to use some 5,680 of its fuel cell-related patent licenses without paying royalties. The gambit echoed a similar move last year by Tesla Motors Inc., which opened its patents to promote electric vehicles. The Toyota will allow royalty-free use of its FCV patent licenses by those manufacturing and selling FCVs through 2020. The patents cover fuel cell stacks, high-pressure tanks and control systems. Toyota is also opening about 70 hydrogen station-related patents for installing and operating pumps.

But plenty of other competitors are already on board with their own hydrogen fuel cell programs. Honda, which introduced its first fuel cell vehicle in 2002, is working on its third-generation vehicle. It aims to start selling that car globally in 2016. General Motors, which launched a test fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox crossovers in 2007, partnered with Honda last year to develop fuel cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies for 2020.

Hyundai Motor Co. started leasing its hydrogen-powered Tucson compact crossover in California last summer. Its $499-a-month lease includes unlimited hydrogen refueling for three years. Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen are also preparing cars.

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