© Autonews Second generation of the Toyota Mirai, the hydrogen-powered sedan from the Japanese manufacturer
They are not many manufacturers to bet on hydrogen. Toyota, a giant in the global automotive market, is one of them and is already renewing its fuel cell model. The Toyota Mirai is back with a level of competitiveness in terms of price and performance, closer than ever to its unleaded, diesel or even hybrid equivalents. Mirai, for "future" in Japanese. A technology of the future, when the hydrogen distribution network will facilitate its use. A future may not be so distant. The Mirai is already present and its technology is most current.
Are you considering the purchase of a high-end sedan? What if you chose it with a hydrogen engine? It may seem a bit rushed to consider such a choice as fuel cell technology seems experimental alongside diesels, gasoline, hybrid or even electric engines, which are no longer so confidential. And yet, the second generation of Toyota Mirai is just entering the market in our market, just over six years after the release of the first in 2014, with a level of achievement that has nothing to do with science fiction. Running on hydrogen is technically possible today.
Possible, but not yet completely devoid of constraints, however. The main one being the network of hydrogen stations, for the time being very confidential. By counting only those delivering a pressure of 700 bars, allowing the maximum filling of the tanks, three are open in the Paris region, two more will be during this year 2021, and another is in service in Chambéry. About ten stations complete the total in France, with a pressure of 350 bars, reducing the vehicle's range by half. For now, your location will already partly decide whether hydrogen is a viable option for you.
The development of the network will take time but it is progressing, with the investments of companies like the French Air Liquide, world leader in the production and distribution of hydrogen, of transport professionals like the fleet of Hype taxis in Paris, operating the few models available on the market, or even public investments. France thus plans to devote 7.2 billion euros until 2030, including 2 billion euros by the end of next year to accelerate the development of the entire hydrogen ecosystem. The new charging station at Porte de Saint-Cloud, west of the capital, which should come into service in June, will be the first in the world to offer four filling guns and will be equipped with an electrolyser for produce hydrogen on site from renewable energies.
To convert to hydrogen, by choosing the Mirai, you no longer need to look like you're driving in a technological laboratory. Gone is the first generation with its exuberant air intakes, tortured forms and the associated implicit message: “Look at me! I am not like other cars, I run on hydrogen. "The new Mirai softens lines and very secluded. Let’s not exaggerate, as a technological showcase, the Japanese keep a strong and quirky identity. Very fluid, playing on the convex and concave surfaces at the level of the flanks, adopting a slender "nose" with the end of the (long) hood more advanced than the contrasting grille with solid blades, lower than the double-stage headlights and lengthening its length. bodywork towards the rear by a receding roof, there is still something to be noticed. Especially in its presentation shade of an electric blue necessarily very … hydrogen. For more discretion and not to display too high the operating mode of your FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle), you can always choose a more classic color.
It won't make it more compact. It abandons the platform of the Prius for that of the limousine of the Toyota group, the Lexus LS. A little shorter than the latter, this is a road sedan, like the Lexus ES with a strictly identical length of 4.975 m. It thus lengthens by 8.5 cm compared to the first and also gains 7 cm in width while lowering from 5.5 cm to 1.48 m.
Space saving, new running gear, this change of base offers something to review the integration of all the elements of the hydrogen system. A system itself lighter and more compact in many ways. The control unit reduces its size under the hood and the electric motor migrates to the rear axle to free up enough space to accommodate the fuel cell, previously 30% larger and twice as heavy, then placed under the front seats. Instead, the floor could be lowered and a third hydrogen tank was added between the seats. The other two are in a transverse position, under the rear seat and under the boot floor. Their total capacity gains nearly 20 liters (142.2 liters), enough to carry 5.6 kg of H2 (+ 1 kg). Associated with a reduction in consumption estimated at 10% and a recovery of energy under braking and increased deceleration by 43%, the gain in range would reach 30% (650 km announced against 500 km).
The battery abandons its 204 Nickel-Metal Hydride cells for 84 Lithium-Ion cells and reduces its size and weight by 2.3 kg (44.6 kg). It is placed behind the backs of the rear seats, just above the engine, and air inlets on each side of the bench are used for cooling. As a direct consequence of this implementation, the backrest still cannot be folded down and this accumulator counts as a permanent baggage for the loading volume …
Forced but comfortable cohabitation
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The trunk is the first to suffer from all of these. Closer to that of a compact sedan, it limits the versatility of this road. The rear passengers will nevertheless be very comfortable there. Although a fifth place is making its appearance, the enormous central tunnel covering the tank and the very low pavilion, will give it a back-up use. Better to take advantage of the central armrest and consider the Mirai as a four-seater. Two adults will have room in width as in headroom, will finally be able to slide their feet under the front seats and will benefit from a very comfortable upholstery. The leg length is on the other hand closer to that of a wagon in the low average but extended trips should be pleasant.
The high-end atmosphere can also be seen at the front, in the enveloping and soft leather seats (non-animal depending on the finish). The finish and the assemblies do not disappoint, the imitation leather covers most of the furniture and the dashboard chooses original lines. We find the Lexus style with these long oblique aerators, the superimposed controls or at the level of the design of the cap of the 8-inch digital instrumentation and the steering wheel. So much so that a Toyota premium brand badge would not have denoted. Too bad the light upholstery color is not offered in France. Black is used from floor to ceiling. A 12.3-inch central screen completes the dashboard, while a head-up display of the same diagonal in ultra-wide format and an interior rear-view mirror-camera equip the upper “Executive” finish to accentuate the “techno” aspect.
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The lounge atmosphere is found behind the wheel with this view of the long hood and this impression of width reminding us of its imposing size. The flexibility of the suspensions promotes comfort. The body bounces slightly with the variations of the relief of the road. It also rolls in curves and dives under braking. The weight is felt but the stability is assured. Precise, the relatively light direction hardens on the mode "Sport" while the brake pedal requires a time of adaptation by its lack of naturalness. Under acceleration, performance is more straightforward. The 300 Nm of torque are delivered instantly and the 0 to 100 km / h is done in 9.2 sec. This is four tenths better than the previous Mirai, despite a weight increase of 50 kg (1900 kg empty). The electric motor, 35 Nm less torque, gains in exchange 28 hp to achieve this with 182 hp in total. Power supplied by the 174 hp of the fuel cell against 155 hp on the old one, as well as by the energy of the battery acting as a buffer.
Approved "zero emissions" to access all cities, its size does not make it the most suitable model for dense urban areas. It will feel more to its advantage on the motorway network and expressways. We take advantage of the silence of the electric, the whistling of the fuel cell is almost imperceptible at acceleration, non-existent at stabilized speed, thanks to its positioning under the hood. Only air noises are heard and a few rolling noises, especially with the 20 "rims causing tremors at the slightest imperfection in the road. Not enough to attack the overall comfort provided by the damping but the entry-level "Lounge" finish and its 19 "rise should improve this small obstacle to the general" flying carpet "effect.
Responsive and well insulated, the feeling of speed is erased. Limited to 175 km / h, it will be necessary to monitor your meter so as not to be surprised. Hydrogen takes on its full meaning on long journeys. It combines the pleasure of an electric, devoid of the constant purring of a heat engine, with the serenity of models that are equipped with it. The speed, the energetic reminders, nothing abruptly affects the autonomy displayed on the on-board computer. It will still be preferable to keep a regular pace to hope to reach more than 600 kilometers in one go, but our average consumption of 1.49 kg / 100 km, achieved on a route combining highways, secondary network and city passages, making extensive use of all the power available, ensures to have more than 350 kilometers of range in all conditions. Well beyond 500 km with a casting, without the need to resort to eco-driving so far.
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To go far, diesel is therefore even better today. But this is only due to a fuel cost equivalent to that of hydrogen for greater range. Between € 10 and € 15 per kilo of hydrogen, savings are not at the pump for the moment. A price that will decrease with the development of the distribution network and the increase in demand, which could make this gas more competitive than diesel within a few years.
Because the price of the vehicle itself becomes in turn almost as competitive to purchase. The new Toyota Mirai is sold from € 67,900, bonus of € 3,000 not deducted (€ 2,000 from July 2021). Its "Executive" finish (panoramic roof, four ventilated and heated seats, tri-zone air conditioning, head-up display, interior rear-view mirror-camera, genuine leather upholstery, 20 "rims, autonomous parking, driver's seat and steering wheel with position memory, floor lighting) is displayed € 7,000 more expensive at € 74,900. No options are offered.
While that may seem expensive, it is above all impressive to see how quickly fuel cell technology manages to position itself at the same price point as current thermal or hybrid powertrains in the same category. A Lexus ES 300h Executive and its non-rechargeable hybrid engine of 218 hp is admittedly € 9,400 below (€ 65,490), but diesel road cars such as the Mercedes E 220d (194 hp) or the BMW 520d (190 hp) as well as the 520th plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid version of the latter (204 hp), with equal allocations, exchange between € 72,000 and € 77,000.
The entrance ticket for the first generation Mirai was placed 11,000 € higher, at 78,900 €. The metallic paint was not included and the technological endowment, inferior. All for a less advanced and smaller vehicle. It was only six years ago. And if we go back another six years, in 2008, Honda made its FCX Clarity available to a handful of Californian drivers to gain experience on the fuel cell with a very small production vehicle. Each copy was at a price worthy of a… Rolls-Royce. The fall in prices in ten years is dizzying.
Just like the price at the pump, the "list" price of Fuel Cell models will continue to decline gradually, in particular through lower production costs with, among other things, the use of ever smaller quantities of platinum in the fuel cell, a rare metal whose quantity has already been halved between the two generations of Toyota Mirai.
The cheapest hydrogen passenger car is therefore financially sobering. Its biggest fault is ultimately found in the clutter of its entire system, reducing its trunk and condemning the backrest of its bench. Hyundai manages to do better on this side with its Nexo. The choice of an SUV makes it possible to play on the height to facilitate the integration of the tanks and the battery while retaining five seats, folding backrests and 461 liters of cargo volume. However, it is offered from € 79,900 for very similar equipment and technical characteristics.
For the pros, but for how long?
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If the number of stations distributing hydrogen were sufficient, the footprint / habitable volume ratio would be its main obstacle to competition in the face of equivalent thermal models. This makes this Mirai especially suitable for fleets of taxis which already use almost exclusively the available pumps, for ultimately urban use with significant mileage. Technical progress will make it possible for the next generations to further reduce the size of the battery, the battery and all the accessories, to reduce consumption to reduce the volume or even the number of tanks, up to offering a roominess in line with the size of the body.
Weight savings are also possible, even if on this point, the fuel cell vehicle is at the level of a plug-in hybrid and does much better than an electric vehicle supposed to be able to cover a similar distance. These indeed carry huge batteries sometimes exceeding 700 kg if not more for a total mass largely exceeding the threshold of two tons. In the Mirai, the filled tanks weigh about 100 kg, the fuel cell weighs around 50 kg, the battery, 44.6 kg, the battery power converter, 25.5 kg. All these elements take up space but represent only a third of the weight of the battery alone of the “long range” electric vehicle.
While waiting to be able to drive a fuel cell sedan on long journeys with all your luggage, choosing a Toyota Mirai is still today a militant act for an individual. If he lives near one of these service stations and he does not intend to escape from his home more than 300 km away in areas without stations, then this act will no longer be so far-fetched. Versatility will be less than that of a gasoline, diesel or conventional hybrid, but its originality and its approval at a comparable cost can be attractive by betting on a future favorable to this technology.
The advance taken today by Toyota and the few manufacturers investing in hydrogen could within a few years lead us to witness a story close to that of the hybrid, in which the Japanese brand believed by releasing its first in 1997. model and of which it now dominates the market of the head and shoulders.