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Toyota aims to replicate Prius success with fuel cell Mirai

CALIFORNIA:  Toyota Motor Corp on Monday said it will introduce its first mass-market fuel cell car in the United States next year, hoping to replicate the success of its Prius hybrid with a vehicle that runs on hydrogen instead of gasoline.

The four-person sedan named Mirai, the Japanese word for “future”, will be at California dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2015. Only 200 will be available in the United States next year, with volumes increasing to 3,000 by 2017, executives said at a press conference in Newport Beach, California.

The Mirai will cost $57,500, which could drop to $45,000 after federal and state incentives. Toyota expects most customers will choose a three-year lease for $499 a month.

Fuel cell vehicles run on electricity from cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen and emit only water vapor. But there are few hydrogen fuel stations in the world, and that lack of infrastructure is a major challenge for carmakers.

Toyota is investing in fuel stations in both California and the Northeastern United States. California has pledged up to $200 million over the next 10 years to build 100 stations.

Governments and consumers, concerned about high oil prices and climate-warming tailpipe emissions, have been pushing automakers to develop vehicles that use little or no gasoline.

Toyota has benefited from that trend with its Prius hybrid.

But rather than banking on mass adoption of battery electric vehicles, as rivals including Nissan Motor Co Ltd and Tesla Motors Inc have done, Toyota thinks fuel cells are the future because they can deliver a longer driving range.

The company will put 700 Mirai cars in the market globally next year, rising to the “tens of thousands” in the 2020s, Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said.

The Mirai can go 300 miles before refueling, according to executives.

“This technology is going to change our world,” Toyota Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso said at the event.

Toyota expects the Mirai’s trajectory will be similar to that of the Prius. It took a decade for Prius sales to reach 1 million units.

There are currently only three fuel cell vehicles in the United States: the Honda FCX Clarity, Mercedes-Benz F-Cell and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell. (Reuters)

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