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First drive: Mirai previews Toyota’s future powertrains

Hydro generation: Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell vehicle uses a chemical process to combine oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity and emits harmless water vapour.

Toyota sees hydrogen as sustainable fuel source as its Mirai goes on tour


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25 Nov 2016

WITH the construction of its own mobile hydrogen refuelling station, Toyota Australia is championing the Mirai and its fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology as a next-generation powertrain solution.

Although unlikely to be sold in Australia in its current form, the new refuelling station has given Toyota the opportunity to offer first drives of the Mirai to journalists, government officials and other parties interested in fuel-cell tech.

Speaking at a Mirai media event, Toyota Australia government affairs and trade manager Andrew Willis said the key appeal of hydrogen fuel-cell technology was due to the ownership experience being similar to petrol or diesel vehicles.

“One of the key things we like about the technology is that it doesn’t change the ownership paradigm for the customers,” he said. “Fuel-cell vehicles still offer the same convenience as conventional cars… and offer the same drive experience, power and handling fun.

“The other benefit we find is the driving range. So it has about a 550km range and you don’t have to plug in anything, you don’t have to wait around for it to recharge or refuel, it’s really the same as what you use to drive your car at home.” Toyota Australia product planning manager Michael Elias added that the cost of refuelling the Mirai’s 5kg hydrogen tank is similar to the cost of petrol and diesel, but hydrogen could be sourced sustainably and without an impact on the environment.

“The cost of refuelling, based on commercially available refuelling stations overseas, we expect it to be around $60 to refuel the vehicle to give it that 550km range,” he said.

“You might also be asking where the hydrogen will come from, and there are many renewable and modern means of extracting and separating the hydrogen. Hydrogen is actually the most plentiful element in our world.” Using a fuel-cell stack mounted below the front passenger seats, the Mirai combines incoming air with hydrogen to produce electricity, with the only by-product being water vapour that Toyota says is safe enough to drink.

Mr Elias said the Mirai more than matches modern vehicles in performance, safety and technology, with the added benefit of emitting zero emissions.

“In this vehicle, the electric motor delivers 335Nm of torque, which is equivalent to a modern petrol combustion V6 engine,” he said.

“This vehicle can travel at speeds up to 180km/h with the only by-product, through this chemical process of the joining of oxygen and hydrogen, being water, which is dispelled out the back.

“It incorporates eight airbags, radar cruise, blind-spot monitoring, and autonomous emergency braking pre-collision warning system, in addition to the fact it has been engineered to meet ANCAP’s five-star rating.” With a power output of 114kW and 335Nm of torque, the Mirai just about matches the Toyota Camry in power (118kW) and the Aurion in torque (336Nm).

Aside from functioning as a car, Mr Elias revealed another use for the Mirai vehicle – as a generator to power entire homes.

“Another really neat opportunity with a fuel-cell vehicle, is with a household power supply unit, the vehicle can actually power a home or appliances and create that emergency power supply,” he said.

“There is a point in the back of the vehicle in the boot and using the power supply, you can actually plug straight in. And because the vehicle, through the hydrogen creates its own electricity, it can actually power a home. As I understand it can generate 60kWh of electricity which, in Australia, is about four days’ worth of electricity, in Japan that could be maybe six days.” Although there are currently no FCEVs on sale commercially in Australia, Mr Willis said hydrogen fuel-cell technology is worth the investment.

“We still see this as the future,” he said. “In the year 2000, we saw the launch of the Prius, and since then we’ve been able to cut emissions by about 50 per cent, so it’s been a significant change in that time.

“The next logical step in that is to move to things like fuel-cell technology which brings emissions to zero.

“This is one of the key reasons why Toyota is keen to introduce this technology, because it really supports our focus on reducing the impact on the environment. So as we did when we introduced hybrid technology around about 15 years ago, we’re now taking that step further to go down to zero emissions.” Mr Willis said the Mirai is designed from the ground up to be a sustainable vehicle, not only in terms of emissions and fuel but also production.

“So the Mirai is made at the Motomachi plant in Japan and, as part of Toyota’s 2050 environmental challenge, in addition to reducing tailpipe vehicle emissions by up to 90 per cent, they also have an intention to move their factories – their production side of it and the sourcing of the parts and components – they want to move that down to zero emissions as well,” he said.

Behind the wheel, the Mirai’s instrumentation layout is similar to Toyota’s hybrid Prius with speed, battery and ancillary information displayed centrally in the dashboard.

The large central infotainment touchscreen is also familiar Toyota – with options for navigation, radio and phone connectivity – while the drive selector, with eco and power modes, and climate controls are positioned further down.

Like plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs), the Mirai is completely silent on start up and once it gets going, the only noises intruding into the cabin are from the tyres and road. Steering is light yet communicative and the suspension did an admirable job of absorbing bumps and imperfections, considering the Mirai weights 1850kg.

While performance could not be considered blistering, the Mirai will accelerate from zero to 100km/h in just over 9.0 seconds, and peak 335Nm of torque is available instantaneously which helped when entering a freeway.

Although regenerative braking is nowhere near as aggressive in the Mirai as it is in a Prius, which led to smoother stops, the brake pedal still feels a little too squishy for our tastes.

Second-row seats are comfortable with plenty of legroom, but a slopping roofline hampers headroom and the positioning of the high-pressure hydrogen tanks means the Mirai will only seat four.

There is also an H20 button on the dash that will dump all the water vapour from the rear of the car when pressed, otherwise the water is emitted in drops.

Although our drive loop lasted only 10 minutes and we would need much more time with the Mirai to definitively determine whether Toyota’s FCEV tech is good enough to become the commercial success it needs to be, the building blocks are in place for Toyota’s investment to pay off in the future.

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