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Toyota to Debut it Next-Gen Mirai Fuel Cell Concept at the Tokyo Auto Show

Toyota to Debut it Next-Gen Mirai Fuel Cell Concept at the Tokyo Auto Show

Author: Eric Walz   

As battery-powered cars gain traction in the auto industry, Toyota Motor Corp is one global automaker that's still actively pursuing hydrogen fuel cell technology. Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) offer significantly greater range than EVs and produce only water as a by-product.

The world's second largest automaker announced today that it will preview the next generation of its zero-emission Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show.

The new "Mirai Concept," a final-stage development model of the second-generation fuel cell Mirai, which first went on sale in the U.S. in 2015, will be on view at "Future Expo" from Oct 24 until Nov 4 at the mobility focused theme park Megaweb. 

The totally re-designed Mirai looks impressive and it reflects a major step forward for the design of FCEVs. While the first generation Mirai resembled a standard Toyota Prius, Toyota incorporated a sporty design in the concept that offers increased passenger room and comfort.

The vehicle is based on Toyota's New Global Architecture (TNGA) premium rear-wheel drive platform. The platform accommodates different vehicle sizes and also front-, rear- and all-wheel drive configurations. The TNGA platform gives the Mirai Concept a higher degree of body rigidity, which contributes to greater agility and a lower center of gravity, which makes for better handling, according to Toyota.

"We have worked to make a car that customers will want to drive all the time, a car that has an emotional and attractive design and the kind of dynamic and responsive performance that can bring a smile to the driver's face," said Yoshikazu Tanaka, Chief Engineer of the Mirai. "I want customers to say 'I chose the Mirai because I simply wanted this car, and it just happens to be an FCEV.' We will continue our development work focusing on that feeling, and we hope that with the new Mirai we will be a leader in helping to realize a hydrogen energy society."

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How Fuel Cell Vehicles Work

Instead of relying on a heavy lithium-ion battery pack to power electric motors, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles work by combining hydrogen in fuel cell to produce electricity. The Hydrogen travels to the fuel cell stack where it goes through a chemical reaction involving the oxygen in the air, creating electricity. 

The electricity produced is used to power the vehicle's electric motor(s). The hydrogen tank can be refilled at a hydrogen filling station. The tank is made much stronger to handle the higher pressures of compressed hydrogen.

Some gas stations in California, were the first Mirai went on sale, have already started adding hydrogen filling pumps alongside gasoline pumps.

In a partnership with Toyota and Royal Dutch Shell, Shell has four hydrogen filling stations in California and is currently working with the support of the State of California, to further develop its hydrogen refuelling network. The hydrogen can be refilled in about 5 minutes, much faster than an electric vehicle takes to fully charge. 

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A hydrogen filling station in California operated by Shell.

Although the new Mirai looks like an appealing luxury car, fuel cell technology has not fully taken hold in the auto industry yet. Only around 10,000 fuel cell Mirais have been sold globally since its launch. However, the technology shows promise in commercial applications such as long-haul trucking and commercial busses, offering fleet operators and cities a zero-emission, less costly option for logistics and public transportation.

In March, Korean automaker Hyundai Motor signed a memorandum of understanding to form a six-nation consortium group to develop standardized parts for high-pressure fuel charging containers in commercial vehicles. The consortium consists of Hyundai Motor, Toyota, French gas company Air Liquide, Norweigan energy company Nel Hydrogen, American hydrogen-fueled truck company Nikola Motor and Shell Energy Group.

The Mirai is scheduled for launch starting in late 2020, initially in Japan, North America and Europe. Toyota made Improvements in the fuel cell system performance and increased the hydrogen storage capacity, mean the new Mirai will target a thirty percent increase in driving range over the current generation.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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