Toyota has officially rolled out an affordable, eco-friendly car that can drive for 300 miles, takes less than five minutes to refuel, and comes with three years of free gas. It’s everything fans of zero-emission car culture could love, and the biggest name in electric cars hates it.
Toyota’s Mirai (“future” in Japanese) will be one of the first mass-market cars to run on hydrogen fuel cells, where compressed hydrogen gas is converted to electricity, leaving water vapor as the only exhaust. As opposed to getting plugged in overnight, the sedan will need only about three minutes to get back to full charge.
However the Mirai has found a surprisingly forceful critic in Elon Musk. The electric-car pioneer and founder of Tesla Motors has called hydrogen fuel cells “extremely silly,” with his main critique being that hydrogen is too difficult to produce, store and turn efficiently to fuel, diverting attention from better sources of clean energy. “The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current-case batteries. It doesn’t make sense, and that will become apparent in the next few years,” Musk said last month in Detroit.
Bob Carter, a Toyota senior vice president, slapped back at Musk by criticizing his focus on battery-powered cars: “If I was in a position where I had all my eggs in one basket, I would perhaps be making those same comments.”
Toyota has been adamant in its defense of hydrogen, saying it will give drivers faster refueling times and better range than the typical battery-powered electric car. While they are not the only automaker pushing hard on fuel cells, Toyota has been one of its biggest supporters, opening its more than 5,000 fuel-cell related patents up for free and saying it wants to build and fund new fueling stations, first in California and then stretching to the east coast.
Although Mirai production began in December, Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, marked Tuesday as the official roll-out date. “For us, that date marks a new start,” Toyoda said. “This is not to reflect on the past, but rather to celebrate Toyota’s new start, where we take a fresh step towards the future.”
At 300 miles, the Mirai offers the longest range of any electric vehicle on the market. However, to sell successfully in America, the cars will need a nationwide infrastructure for refueling. They make little sense anywhere else now but in California, home of the nation’s few existing hydrogen refueling stations and where tens of millions of dollars are being invested to build 28 more.
Toyota plans to sell the Mirai for about $45,000 in the U.S., including approximately $13,000 in federal and California incentives. A dozen workers will hand-craft the cars without the use of a conveyor belt, producing only three a day. The small-batch operation will roll out 700 vehicles this year for the U.S., Japanese, and European markets, with production expected to increase to 2,000 units next year.
The Mirai goes on sale to the public in Japan beginning next month.