Toyota executive vice president Mitsuhisa Kato in front of the Mirai fuel cell sedan at its launch in Japan

Toyota launches first mass-market fuel cell car

Toyota’s first mass-market hydrogen fuel cell car will go on sale in Japan on 15 December, executives said at a launch event in Tokyo this morning.

The four-person sedan named Mirai, meaning ‘future’ in Japanese, is powered by electricity from cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen and emit only water vapour, while offering similar range and refuelling times to petrol or diesel engines.

Toyota hopes to build on its success with the Toyota Prius, a hybrid that ran on a combination of both traditional fuels and electricity. In a separate launch event in California the company announced plans to launch the vehicle in the USA by the end of next year.

Fears around energy security and climate change are prompting carmakers to look at alternatives to the internal combustion engine, but while rivals like Nissan and Tesla are banking on batteries Toyata believes the extended range – the Mirai can go 300 miles before refuelling – and higher energy density of fuel cells will see them win out eventually.

"This technology is going to change our world," Toyota managing officer Satoshi Ogiso said at the event in Newport Beach, California.

A prototype of the Mirai was first revealed in June this year and Toyota plans to build 700 of the cars in the next year at its Motomachi plant near its headquarters in Toyota City, Japan.

In July, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced subsidies for hydrogen cars aimed at boosting adoption of the new technology that could cut the 7.2 million yen (£40,000) price tag by as much as 3 million yen, and in the US federal subsidies could see the price of the car drop from $57,500 (£36,000) to $45,000.

A key limit on adoption of hydrogen-powered vehicles is the current lack of infrastructure, but Japan expects to have 100 hydrogen fuelling stations built by March 2015 and Toyota is investing in fuel stations in both California and the north-eastern United States, while California has pledged up to $200m over the next 10 years to build 100 stations.

The company is targeting roughly 400 sales in Japan by the end of 2015, but it plans to ramp up production to the "tens of thousands" in the 2020s, according to Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada.

According to Toyota, the vehicle can double as a high-capacity external power supply system during power outages and they are exploring potential use of their fuel cell technology in power generation and other applications, including fuel-cell-powered forklifts and buses.

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