NZ plugging into Aussie Mirai trial

Our neighbour’s experience of living with the world’s latest hydrogen car for the next three years will provide positive feedback here, the model’s local distributor says.


LACKING the means to operate a hydrogen car will not keep the country’s largest new car brand from learning the pluses and pitfalls of having such technology on our roads.

This suggestion comes from Toyota New Zealand in response to its Australian equivalent having introduced the Mirai fuel cell car – not for sale, as it is in some other countries, but for promotional purposes and assessment over three years.

Currently on an electric charge with a rechargeable edition of the Prius hybrid here, the Palmerston North-based market leader says the lack of an accessible fuel source is the principal hindrance why Australia’s experiment cannot be applied here, though it also cites poor infrastructural support.

However we will still benefit from our neighbour’s experience with a Camry-sized five-door hatchback whose name, in Japanese, means ‘future.’

Spencer Morris (below), general manager of product, says accessing Toyota Australia’s findings and experiences is something of a win.

“We will be keeping a close eye on their learnings and insights.”

“We are enormously interested in fuel cell technology, but due to absence of support and infrastructure we do not have any plans to trial or introduce the Mirai in the near future,” he told MotoringNetwork.

“We’re extremely excited for TMCA (Toyota Australia) to gain this time with the Mirai.

“… though introducing the relevant infrastructure will take time, having the Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology available across the Tasman generating awareness around future mobility will undoubtedly reach a New Zealand audience and provide key learnings for not only prospective New Zealand customers but the industry too.”

The Mirai uses the Toyota Fuel Cell System, which combines fuel-cell and hybrid technology, for a cruising range of about 550km and a refuelling time of approximately three minutes, all the while emitting only water vapour.

Toyota’s fuel-cell stack produces 114kW of power and has a volume power density of 3.1 kiloWatts per litre.

The hydrogen is stored in two high-pressure tanks with a combined volume of 122.4 litres at 700 bar (10,000psi), which then feeds into the fuel-cell stack where it combines with oxygen to create a chemical reaction to produce electricity to power the Mirai via a 113kW/335Nm electric motor. The power is stored in a nickel-metal hydride battery.

Though not expensive - the cited sticker for Japan equates to around $80,000 here – it is exclusive. Production is limited just 700 vehicles in the first year.

Australia has one hydrogen refueling station, but it is in Sydney and not palatable to Toyota, being operated by Hyundai Australia.

To run its fleet, Port Melbourne-centred Toyota Australia will bring in a mobile hydrogen fuel station.

This can top the car's tanks up anywhere, allowing the Mirais to be transported to different parts of the country with greater ease. Toyota says it can be attached to a truck for mobile refuelling or be ground mounted as well.

Toyota Japan allowed for a Mirai to go to Australia for the World Hydrogen Technologies Convention in Sydney last October.

Morris says that was a key moment: “This initial exposure played a fundamental role in informing audiences outside of Japan, North America and Europe (where the technology is currently introduced) around the global technology.

He added that this “achieved valuable time with government representatives – a break we did not get to stimulate industry support.

“Having three fuel cell vehicles return to Australia for development and awareness over the next three years is a next logical step to continue the conversation on refueling infrastructure required to support fuel cell vehicles.”

Toyota Australia is facing the same challenges but company president Dave Buttner believes the Mirai fleet will help spread the word about hydrogen fuel-cell technology and increase its awareness. 

He acknowledged that it would take some time before hydrogen fuel-cell infrastructure was established across the Tasman, but reiterated Toyota’s commitment to supporting the technology. 

“We … need the relevant infrastructure in place before we can sell these vehicles in Australia.

“This will take time to develop so it is imperative that we take a whole of industry approach so that we can move these plans along as quickly as possible.

“Fuel cell technology is expected to play a key role in the future and we do not want Australians to miss out on this.”

Even though Toyota appears to want to shy from using Hyundai’s hydrogen, it nonetheless wants to work with the Korean giant in Australia to ensure the regulations for refuelling are consistent to all brands that offer fuel-cell tech.

Toyota Australia says it makes sense for the companies to collaborate in a bid to facilitate wider acceptance and understanding of the benefits of hydrogen fuel-cell-powered cars. 

Meantime, Toyota NZ has advanced its plans, outlined by MotoringNetwork on June 23, to start to sell pre-loved examples of the plug-in versions of the Prius hybrid in its now-superseded third generation format.

TNZ’s decision to introduce used import examples of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid through their Signature Class vehicle refurbishment facility at Thames is to deliver the car for no more than $40,000 – a price level that the brand says is more palatable to potential drivers.

It has previously suggested the equivalent of this version in the new Prius range, the so-called Prime model, would cost up to twice as much and so be less likely to strike a chord when, or if, it becomes available to New Zealand.

TNZ general manager of used vehicles and marketing Andrew Davis says there is a lot of interest in the wider community around electric powertrains, both in the media and in corporate New Zealand.

“Current new EV options can be expensive but we acknowledge the market is slowly gaining traction so we want to deliver a cost-effective option and tackle some of the apprehension around EVs and Plug-ins,” says Davis.

The used vehicles are currently sourced from Japan, aged between two and four years and have travelled fewer than 25,000 kilometres.

The version combines a 1.8-litre petrol engine with a 60-kilowatt electric motor and can optimally operate as electric vehicles for up to 26km and at up to 100kmh before reverting to petrol or battery power. That’s the lowest cited electric-only range for any plug-in hybrid sold here. The car also differs from other plug-in electrics in requiring to be recharged from a heavy-duty 15 amp source rather than from a general household power point.

In terms of its economy, TNZ suggests the car might rate at an equivalent 2.5L/100km in all-electric mode and 4.7L/100km in hybrid mode.

TNZ says the cars it brings in are refurbished to new vehicle standards and fitted with local audio and reversing camera. Dashboard displays are altered from Japanese to English and the existing Japanese owner’s manual is replaced with an English version.

The cars also receive a five-year warranty, including battery and powertrain, and undergo odometer certification and compliance checks by AA as part of the Signature Class process. They come with charging cables but costs of implementing a 15 amp plug is down to the owner.

Toyota has the country’s biggest dealer network, but just six of those sales outlets are initially promoting specialist hybrid service which include on-site charging stations.

Two are located in Auckland, one in Hawkes Bay, another in Palmerston North, and one each in Wellington and Christchurch. More dealerships are expected to follow, TNZ says.