The brilliant Mazda MX-5 roadster might have won an unprecedented double at the 2016 World Car of the Year awards, but the Toyota Mirai’s ‘green’ gong was the most significant.
The MX-5 won both the COTY and the design COTY, the first time in the award’s 13-year history that a carmaker has won both trophies. It has won countless other awards. It was the Automotive News NZ sports/performance winner in 2015.
Said Mazda’s North America chief Masahiro Moro: “As our iconic MX-5 roadster approaches one-million units of production, this award is proof that it is as young, vibrant, fun and relevant as ever.”
But in recognising the Mirai, the international panel of 73 judges acknowledged that it represents the future of cleaner, greener motoring. The name Mirai means ‘future’ in Japanese.
The Mirai pushed aside mainstream hybrids like the updated Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt to win the ‘green’ COTY award, the first hydrogen fuel-cell car to do so.
It went on sale in Japan in 2014 and in Europe and America late last year. The 2016 model year Mirai in the US costs US$57,500 (NZ$86,000) before any federal or state tax incentives, and can be leased from US$499 (NZ$740) a month.
It is not available in New Zealand – charge stations for electric cars like the Tesla S will be put in place long before a hydrogen infrastructre is established. By 2020, when the Japan Times says Toyota will ramp up production, the Mirai is expected to cost around US$40,000 (NZ$59,000).
It is a front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan, 4.9m long and 1.82m wide and weighing 1850kg. It has a fairly typical suspension system – MacPherson struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear. But that’s where the ‘conventional’ similarities end.
The two large air intakes on each side of the Mirai’s grille pull in hydrogen and oxygen from the air to feed the fuel-cell stack. The chemical reaction creates emission-free electricity to drive the vehicle.
Under the Mirai’s bonnet is an electric motor mounted east-west. On top of that is a power control unit. The fuel cell stack is further back, under the front seats, and its booster sits between them.
The Mirai has two hydrogen fuel tanks, one under the front seats and the other behind the rear seats. The stack itself is 50 per cent lighter than a previous design and delivers 114kW of power and 330Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed gearbox.
In naming the car Toyota boss Akio Toyoda said it redefines the industry. “We are at a turning point in automotive history. A turning point where people will embrace a new, environmentally friendly car that is a pleasure to drive,” he said.
“A turning point where a four-door sedan can travel 300 miles (500km) on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refuelled in under five minutes and emit only water vapour.
“Our fuel cell vehicle runs on hydrogen that can be made from virtually anything, even garbage. It has a fuel cell that creates enough electricity to power a house for about a week.
“This is a car that lets you have it all with no compromises. As a test driver, I knew this new fuel cell vehicle had to be truly fun to drive – and believe me, it is.”