By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- August 10, 2015 -- The word Mirai means “future” in Japanese. The word is a perfect name for the new hydrogen-powered vehicle set to go on sale this fall. Toyota has announced that it will begin selling the world’s first mass-market fuel-cell powered car in North America in October. It’s only a matter of time until they start showing up in collision centres.
The introduction of the Mirai represents a radical new leap in terms of auto technology. Collision repair professionals likely remember how dealing with hybrids and electric vehicles required extra training, especially in terms of safety. We’re likely to see some of the same need repeated with the introduction of fuel-cells.
At the heart of the Mirai is a hydrogen fuel-cell, a radically advanced engine that has long been talked about, but is only now being incorporated into vehicles that are commercially available.
Fuel cells generate power from the element hydrogen. Tanks are filled with the gas. The engine generates electricity by moving the atoms of hydrogen through a membrane that strips electrons from hydrogen. The engine harvests the electricity created in the process. The only exhaust is the water created when the hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen on the way out of the engine.
These vehicles are like electric vehicles in that electricity is used to turn the wheels the vehicle, and many of the components are similar to those found in electric cars. But the Toyota Mirai generates its own electricity in the fuel cell from hydrogen stored in a special tank.
The technology has been under development for decades and the car is already on the road in Japan. But Toyota will begin offering the cars for sale in California in October, that state being the only place in North America with hydrogen stations. There are only nine of these pumps so far. And the Mirai will only be sold at eight dealerships around those stations.
However, Toyota says it expects to sell 3,000 Mirais by the end of 2017 at a price a little under $60,000. Additional stores in the Northeast could start selling the car as early as 2016.
One of the problems in developing fuel-cell based cars is that the tanks to hold hydrogen are hard to produce. Hydrogen is the smallest element on the periodic table of elements, and so the gas can leak out between substances made of any other element. Toyota seems to have overcome the problem through the use of fancy carbon-fibre tanks, allowing the future to arrive right on time.