Somewhere along the timeline in Toyota’s decade-plus-plan to proliferate fuel cell vehicles, the automaker wishes to slash their price premium to that of a diesel car.

Along with a present lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, fuel cell vehicles had been criticized for years as nigh to vaporware due to prohibitive production costs.

The Mirai is to be launched at $57,500 this year in California so that criticism has itself largely vaporized, but this is still seen as a hefty dollar amount for a four-passenger mid-sized Toyota.

The financially sound Japanese automaker is however strongly backing this fuel cell enterprise, and orders from its top brass are to get the price down according to a report from Geneva.

Katsuhiko Hirose, project general manager for Toyota’s fuel cell development division did not say when the Mirai – or one of the other FCVs it is working on for later – would be discounted to diesel levels but the plan is to do it ASAP.

How soon?

“That is a question, but once we made it for the market, huge pressure [to reduce cost] came from our chairman or president,” Hirose said. “We say, ‘It may take 15 years.’ Their order is: ‘You do it in half.’ That is normal communication, then we try to extend it, and they try to shorten the target time.”

Hirose noted it has taken 15 years to grow hybrid market share with variants across the Toyota and Lexus lines, and the company’s leadership foresees a similar roll-out timeframe.

The price premium for diesel passenger vehicles may vary. Typically it could be perhaps $2,000-$5,000 more for a clean diesel than a gasoline counterpart depending on price point and manufacturer.

Notable also is hybrid-electric vehicles such as the Camry Hybrid versus non-hybrid Camry themselves carry a $2,000-some premium or so, but Hirose did not draw attention to that fact. Instead he said just as diesels cost more, but not prohibitively more, so will be Toyota’s goal be for fuel cell cars.

“We are targeting down to the same level as a diesel with a particulate filter,” Hirose said. “For this, if you price more expensive [diesel] engine and expensive after-treatment, the target cost will be similar.”

Toyota has been reported as bypassing the heavy lifting in battery electric cars and been criticiszed by plug-in advocates for the same.

It is at work on plug-in technology at the research level, and could one day roll out an advanced plug-in car beyond the next gen Prius PHEV, but FCVs are where it sees greater potential.

The vehicles refuel with extremely high-pressure 10,000 psi hydrogen gas in five minutes, and may travel around 300 miles on a fill-up. More range is merely a function of installing a larger tank.

“How can we provide mobility with sustainability for the future?” Hirose said. “Toyota is always thinking to make the business continue for the next centuries. To make sustainable mobility, we have to take off from fossil fuels.”

It’s believed Toyota is already underwriting costs in the ramp-up stage for its Mirai and profitability is not expected until later down the line. To slash prices further would imply its engineers need to reduce actual production costs which would be preferably than merely whittling profits from an already unprofitable car.

Ultimately, of course, profitability is the goal.

Automotive News