Toyota announced tonight it will work with Air Liquide toward planting 12 fuel cell vehicle refueling stations in five Northeastern states for its new pending fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai.
Timing for the launch which was announced tonight by CEO Jim Lentz for this “hydrogen highway” is not being disclosed, and details of the collaboration with Air Liquide will follow in coming months.
“Toyota’s vision of a hydrogen society is not just about building a great car, but ensuring accessible, reliable and convenient refueling for our customers,” said Lentz. “I am happy to announce that this vision will expand beyond the borders of California and give customers the opportunity to join the fuel cell movement.”
The car’s symbolic title – Mirai – meaning “future” in Japanese has been previously reported as the likely name for Toyota’s first fuel cell car, and this was made official in a video presentation by President Akio Toyoda.
Toyota’s plans are to launch the vehicle first in California in the latter half of 2015, and according to Jana Hartline, a logical assumption is it will follow in states surrounding the New York and Boston regions, specifically, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
She was not willing to state definitively what states will follow California next in a phased roll-out, but said FCVs will follow where infrastructure – and presumably markets – are available and ready.
The initial infrastructure is in part to back up the assertion that the name is appropriate, and for the simple fact that refueling stations remain scarce.
California is pushing the initiative, and preparing its own roll-out schedule to expand the network of fewer than 15 stations now.
“This new announcement builds on Toyota’s previous support for hydrogen infrastructure development in California,” said the automaker in a statement. “In May 2014, Toyota announced a $7.3 million loan to FirstElement Fuels to support the operations and maintenance of 19 hydrogen fueling stations across the state. The commitment augments funding provided by the California Energy Commission, and makes Toyota the only OEM to provide working capital for infrastructure development.”
Together, their combined markets constitute around one-quarter of the U.S. market, but unclear is actual timing and varying degree of preparedness for some of these initial ambitious target commitments.
The entire topic of fuel cell cars has been a source of much contention by advocates of plug-in electrified vehicles.
Tonight is the eve before a two-day press launch here, and Toyota is expected to field tough questions posed on the economics and feasibility of its proposed future.
For its part, Toyota says it is unfortunate that the either/or perspective has come along, and the company that gave the world the Prius and now is sidestepping battery electrics for the most part at this point, says it need not be this way.
As for the car, the Mirai is to be a four-seater sedan. Akio Toyoda in his video speech says the car refuels in five minutes, provides 300 miles range, and emits only water.
Toyoda emphasized it is “a pleasure to drive” and has been proof tested in concept for a decade in every condition for drivability and safety.
“All of us at Toyota believe in a future that will be safer, greener and easier for everyone,” said Toyoda of his team that worked “countless hours” to bring the car to production ready stage. “We imagined a world filled with vehicles that would diminish our dependence on oil and reduce harm to the environment.”
Natural gas is to be the initial feedstock to create hydrogen, but advocates including Akio Toyoda emphasized even “garbage” – land fill gas – can be a source, among other renewables.
“Our fuel cell vehicle runs on hydrogen that can be made from virtually anything, even garbage! It has a fuel cell that creates enough electricity to power a house for about a week. This is a car that lets you have it all with no compromises,” said Toyoda. “As a test driver, I knew this new fuel cell vehicle had to be truly fun to drive – and believe me, it is. It has a low center of gravity, which gives it very dynamic handling.”
The general idea behind proposed hydrogen fuel cell cars is after the slow-paced but deliberate and funded roll-out has made progress, renewables are expected to come on line increasingly.
In helping fund infrastructure, while not exactly as comprehensive as Tesla paying for global Superchargers, Toyota is attempting something similar in concept to solve a chicken-and-egg dilemma.
“For us, this isn’t just another car. This is an opportunity – an opportunity to really make a difference. And making a difference is what Toyota is all about,” said Toyoda. “The future has arrived. And it’s called Mirai.”
It’s believed U.S. pricing for the car will be announced Monday, and we’ll have more in days to come.