About 2,000 people have already raised their hand for a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, which is now on sale in select California markets.

Toyota anticipates that it will fulfill about half of those orders for the 2016 model year, with an allotment of just under 1,000 Mirai sedans for the U.S. through mid 2017 according to Toyota communications rep Jana Hartline.

Of these first “trailblazers,” Toyota will of necessity weed out buyers who are outside the coverage area for fueling infrastructure. For example, Hartline said, if a prospective buyer is in Fresno, this buyer will not be getting a Mirai as there are no hydrogen stations there. Yet.

While some EV fans have alleged overstatement of interest by Toyota, the main point of its media announcement of “2,000” preorders – actually just under 1,900 said Hartline citing a more-recent press release – is there are people who would buy the Mirai if they could.

True enough, the exact number of Mirai sales pending will only be known in hindsight, but Toyota is reporting relatively positive reception even in light of a well-known lack of fueling stations.

The company just opened its online order portal a couple months ago, and Hartline said bottom line the company has a goal of 3,000 by end of calendar year 2017. The slightly under 1,000 Mirais allocated is what the company is working with now, but it is anticipated more units will come later.

How much flexibility may come with Toyota’s supply is unknown at this point, but in Japan when interest late last year exceeded early conservative projections, the automaker tripled production.

It is ultimately playing things by ear, and says this is a “long term play,” according to U.S. chief Bob Carter.

Toyota has not announced a firm date for deliveries but said it expects to hand over the first Mirais to California consumers this month.

The launch of the Mirai came one week after Toyota released its environmental goals for the next 35 years, saying, “Toyota has decided to challenge itself to reduce vehicle CO₂ emissions by 90 percent in comparison with 2010 levels, by 2050.”

And, unlike some auto companies that appear to be heavily investing in only one or two categories of low emission vehicles, Toyota said it will be embracing many technology types.

“Toyota will promote the development of next-generation vehicles with low or zero CO₂ emissions – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel cell vehicles and further accelerate the spread of these vehicles,” the company said.

Mirai Chief Engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka explained further:

“It’s not really a question of which one to go for, one or the other,” he said, adding that even though Toyota doesn’t currently build a battery electric vehicle (BEV), the company “does not deny the idea of pure” electric vehicles.

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When comparing BEVs to fuel cell vehicles, the 312-mile Mirai can drive farther on one fueling than most BEVs. But the limited infrastructure is still disconcerting for many. Very few hydrogen stations are on line in California, and most are grappling with reliability issues. Setbacks and system glitches occasionally even shut down refueling operations.

“That’s not range anxiety,” said Aston Martin Chief Executive Andy Palmer. “That’s range panic, because you just can’t use the car.”

Toyota said its looking into ways to help grow this infrastructure and may underwrite a portion of the operation expenses for hydrogen stations. Recognizing that this will take a group effort, last year Toyota partnered with Nissan and Honda to seek other ways the auto makers can help the expand the refueling network.

Hydrogen “satisfies most of the requirements people would want for their first car. Although it takes time, we are all very committed to this technology,” Mr. Tanaka said. “No matter how good a job Toyota does, Toyota alone cannot make this technology popular. We really need to build an ecosystem.”


Financial Times