Objects in Tesla's mirror may be closer than they think

4d ago


This is a sneak preview of the next-generation Toyota Mirai, to be revealed at this year’s Tokyo Show and on sale next year.

The headline factoid for people into this sort of thing is a 30 per cent increase in range. In real-life terms, that means at least 350 miles of driving before sweaty palmed range-induced panic sets in.

In case you didn’t know, the Mirai is a fuel-cell car; that is, an EV with its own on-board electricity generating station, rather than a rechargeable battery. Toyota, along with Hyundai and Honda, has long championed this rather more radical approach to the electric future, and are effectively telling Elon Musk to shove it where his Type 2 charging cable goes.

Advantages of an FCEV (fuel-cell electric vehicle) over a BEV (battery electric vehicle) include faster refuelling – typically three minutes from a forecourt pump instead of an enforced coffee break while a battery recharges – and longevity, as fuel cells are famously robust while batteries tend to degrade. Fuel cells are also lighter and more compact than giant batteries, with implications for their use in, for example, aviation.

The downside is that the hydrogen infrastructure barely exists yet, whereas rechargeable battery cars make use of existing electricity grids. Hydrogen has to be ‘cracked’ from water or gas using a very energy intensive process, and has to be stored and transported under enormous pressure. These are some of the reasons why its detractors regard hydrogen as a red herring.

Toyota et al counter this by pointing out that the FCEV is part of a much larger vision of the ‘hydrogen society’, in which H2 is used to decarbonise everything from big industry to your kitchen toaster, rather than simply to reduce car emissions.

The styling of the current Mirai is definitely a bit Greta, and keen to make a statement. This one is more mainstream, and could easily pass for a Lexus hybrid. Toyota says the development of the FCEV is now at a point where people will buy the new Mirai simply because it’s a nice car, rather than because of all this spooky hydrogen stuff.

It’s already happening with battery electric cars, next it will happen with fuel-cell electric cars. They’re just ‘cars’.

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