Mercedes-Benz has spent much of its time at CES pimping the self-driving F 015, and while the car certainly matches the flashy, future-style tech CES attendees love to ogle, there’s a lot to be said for subtle progress too. If you’re Toyota, that subtle progress may just be the very first commercially available hydrogen-powered vehicle, releasing this year, and starting at $57,000. It ain’t cheap, but neither is gasoline.
The beautiful thing about Toyota Mirai is that it could easily keep its brilliant feats of engineering all to itself. But it doesn’t plan to. Toyota’s intention, according to its CES presentation, is to license every last hydrogen and Mirai-related patent to other car-makers completely free of charge. Is there a catch? You bet there is. The free-of-charge part vanishes after the year 2020. In other words, if other car-makers become dependent on Toyota’s patented designs for hydrogen fuel-cell technology, they’ll have no choice but to pony up paid licenses five years down the line. Sow goodwill now, and reap cash later. It’s brilliant, and I’d expect nothing less from the notoriously clever Japanese company.
Beyond all that, though, Toyota is absolutely right in its assertion that Mirai could drastically change the landscape of automotive vehicles in Japan, America, and eventually everywhere. Self-driving cars are flashy, they’re futuristic, but they’re also predictable. I mean, let’s be real here — Google has been tinkering away at them for over half a decade. We know they’re going to happen eventually, and we need simply wait until they do.
But a real live hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, sold directly to consumers? No gas, no harmful emissions, and a 300 mile drive radius that trumps all but the priciest of competing electric vehicles? It’s always been regarded as completely preposterous. You can color me thoroughly impressed, and so was renowned physicist Michio Kaku when he introduced the product at CES himself. Oh, and unlike a battery-powered car, the Mirai can be refueled in 3-5 minutes, and power your entire house for nearly a week. Game, set, and match, Tesla. At least for now.
The most obvious caveat of Toyota’s Mirai-volution (it’s too late, I already said it) is the cost of building a hydrogen fuel infrastructure, and the company won’t even sell you a Mirai unless there’s a hydrogen station within a reasonable distance of your home. Given that it costs upwards of a million dollars to build one, it’s not exactly surprising that Toyota is giving away three years of free fuel with every Mirai sold. It’s a good deal on paper, sure, but by the time three years pass and we start actually seeing some of these things pop up where regular gas stations are, your free fuel grace period will be just about over.
Mirai will take time to catch on, but the most promising thing about it is that it’s far more impressive than Prius was when it first released. Only Tesla has succeeded in creating electric cars with range above 300 miles, and Mirai will achieve this from the day it’s made available. Most importantly (and as Dr. Kaku repeatedly pointed out), hydrogen is quite literally the most abundant resource on the planet. As soon as the installation of fueling stations become reasonably affordable, be it five years from now or fifteen, you can bet Toyota will have a massive game-changer on its hands. Maybe then Mercedes can license out its self-driving patents for free and return the favor.
Image Credits: Toyota and The Verge
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