NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Hydrogen-powered vehicles are taking the first steps on their long journey from science experiment to what several automakers hope will become household names.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. released key details about their next-generation fuel-cell vehicles, showing that at least a few automakers expect hydrogen to gain traction with U.S. consumers over the next five years as a clean alternative to gasoline.
Hyundai began leasing its Tucson FCEV at three Southern California dealerships in June, while General Motors and Mercedes-Benz have had demonstration fleets on the road for years, providing the outlines for a fuel cell market that many people saw fairly recently as impractical and tough to generate meaningful sales volume.
Toyota said it plans to sell close to 200 of its Mirai -- it means “future” in Japanese -- sedans when it goes on sale in California in late 2015, and 3,000 units by the end of 2017 as it expands marketing to cover the Northeast U.S.
Overall, Toyota aims to sell 700 Mirai units worldwide -- including Japan and Germany in 2015 -- and “tens of thousands by 2020,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said Monday.
In the U.S., Toyota will match Hyundai’s lease terms -- payments of $499 over 36 months -- but will also offer the Mirai for purchase -- at $57,500. Leases will require a payment of $3,649 at signing, Toyota officials said.
Projected federal and California state incentives will shave about $13,000 from the sticker price, putting the final cost to consumers at “under $45,000, a price point that sat well with our focus groups,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division.
Toyota estimates fleet users will represent 10 percent of overall Mirai sales, with about 90 percent of retail sales going to leases.
The automaker didn’t say it would restrict customers to those who live near hydrogen refueling stations, as Hyundai and Honda have, but emphasized that it would be part of the conversation with potential buyers.
Fuel will be provided at no cost to Mirai owners due to difficulties weighing and pricing the amount of hydrogen used to fill their tanks.
When the gasoline electric hybrid Prius was introduced in the U.S. in 2000, “our dealers were apprehensive but trusted our vision,” Fay said.
Prius sales volume reached 5,500 units in its first six months on the market and it's now a volume vehicle for Toyota.