Toyota has made a name for itself among green car enthusiasts and environmentalists thanks to the brand’s pioneering efforts with the introduction of the Prius hybrid. Nowadays, hybrids as well as electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace, and it seems like almost every major auto manufacturer has a green car or two in its lineup. However, Toyota has chosen to look to the further again — this time, in the realm of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. However, early efforts to incorporate hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative source of fuel passed under the radar, so Toyota has gone back to the drawing board, choosing to introduce hydrogen fuel in different areas in order to slowly build demand.
The problem with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles parallels the initial problem with electric vehicles. Electric charging ports were rare because EVs themselves were rare, but nobody wanted to buy EVs because of their short range and shortage of charging ports. Hydrogen fueling stations are similarly scarce due to the lack of demand for vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel.
Consequently, Toyota is turning its attention (temporarily) away from the automobile market and targeting a more industrial demographic. The next vehicle from the company to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells will be none other than a forklift. These forklifts will be engineered to harness wind power to generate hydrogen to power them through small tasks like shuttling vegetables, beer, and other lightweight goods in the Tokyo Bay marketplace.
As demand for the hydrogen-powered forklifts grows, Toyota will slowly release more mainstream hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with the plan being to eventually launch more passenger vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai. Additionally, Toyota is the world’s largest producer on forklifts, which means these forklifts may catch on sooner than one might think.
Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has gotten a lot of hype this year. Now it has lived up to, and blown away, all expectations. The Mirai got its NASCAR debut at the Sprint Cup April 25th. As the pace car, the Mirai led the pack up to the start of the race, water dripping all the way.
The Toyota Mirai is one of the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to officially hit roadways. The 2016 vehicle proved it had what it takes under the hood to lead 43 race cars onto the track after going through a performance test. The Mirai NASCAR debut is a first for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
“Having a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle pace the Toyota Owners 400 is a historic moment for both Toyota and NASCAR, and we’re proud it’s the Toyota Mirai,” said Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience, Toyota Motor Sales.
The Toyota Mirai will be available in California mid-2015 and slowly spread across the country as hydrogen refueling infrastructure spreads. The car refuels in about five minutes and can get up to 300 miles a tank. This isn’t the first time Toyota’s brought alternative fuel to NASCAR. In 2009 the Camry Hybrid led the Coca Cola 600.
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Toyota is opening its doors to the public, showcasing the production of the new Mirai in a series of videos. People now have an opportunity to see how Toyota’s first production fuel-cell vehicle is manufactured, an incredibly complex and interesting process.
The videos show a surprisingly small staff in Toyota City, Japan putting together the new Mirai, essentially by hand. This is to ensure that there are no flaws on the hydrogen powered sedan, said Toyota. Although it means that only about three cars per day are made, this is enough to keep up with the limited release.
“For us, [the Mirai] marks a new start,” said Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda. “This is not to reflect on the past, but rather to celebrate Toyota’s new start, where we take a fresh step towards the future.”
The Mirai represents the culmination of Toyota fuel-cell technology. Right now, only select parts of the world have the infrastructure for hydrogen cars (a.k.a. hydrogen filling stations) such as certain regions of California. As soon as more places embrace this new eco-friendly technology, Toyota can hit the ground running with the revolutionary Mirai.