There may have been about a dozen automotive related news stories surrounding the 30th anniversary of the second installment of the “Back to the Future” film series, but Toyota owned the festivities by a healthy margin.
Using the film-famous October 21st, 2015 date as a marker, Toyota launched its hydrogen fuel cell-powered Mirai during a celebration with early adopter new owners at Quixote Studios in Hollywood, CA. As part of the event, Toyota bestowed the first Mirai keys to a handful of owners via eight of the brand’s largest California dealers.
The brand also revealed the full video of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd)’s reunion:
The Japanese automaker centered the event around a panel comprised of host Brian Cooley (Editor at Large – CNET), and panelists Chris Hardwick (Nerdist Co-founder), Edward Eich (“Back to the Future” film technology designer), and Jackie Berkshaw (Toyota Engineer responsible for the Mirai).
The panel covered a variety of topics, including how the “Back to the Future” movies had come up with the technology predictions for 2015, which technologies the panelists wanted to see manifested soon, and what they might predict technology in 30 years might look. All panelists seemed to agree that the entertainment industry inspires innovation, leading engineers to turn even vague concepts that were seen in movies into realities.
Toyota also spent a bit of time discussing the Mirai’s development, which spanned 12 years (even longer if you could the time dedicated just to the hydrogen fuel cell technology), and involved tens of thousands of miles of road testing. The company also announced that almost the entire first year’s production run has been pre-sold.
As a quick refresher, the Toyota Mirai will initially be sold just in California, where there’s [some] infrastructure for hydrogen fueling, and it will have a range of about 300 miles. Refueling should take just five minutes and all fuel is included in the purchase of the vehicle for the first three years.
To further put owners at ease, Toyota is offering an eight-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and after tax incentives, the Mirai will cost just about $45,000 (it will retail for $58,325 from the factory).
Though fuel will be free at first, places to fill-up will be limited to about 20 locations in all of California. That’s far less than all the available electric charging stations, though a five-minute refill is significantly faster than an 80-percent recharge of even the quickest electric systems, which take about 30 minutes.
In person, the Mirai is striking. Its long, sharply-creased body looks like it means business and, frankly, I wish the 2016 Prius designers had cross-shopped the Mirai’s styling. Inside, it feels modern, with strong character lines that mimic the exterior design. I can buy that this is a $58,000 car before incentives. It won’t win any luxury awards on its own, but combined with a trend-setting powertrain, the Mirai boasts contemporary looks and what appears to be a comfortable cabin.
Elon Musk has gone on record saying hydrogen fuel cell technology isn’t scalable, and, for the moment, battery-powered electric vehicles are surging forward. Shrinking development costs and an ever-expanding electric charging infrastructure have put EVs in a strong position compared to hydrogen-powered models. With nearly identical ranges, it will be a race from here on out to see whether battery or hydrogen fuel cell technology will lead to more affordable, more convenient zero-emissions experiences.
Though early adopters almost certainly have an extra vehicle or two for more utility or longer trips, the promise of three years of free fill-ups and the guarantee of more hydrogen stations cropping up over time make the Mirai an attractive option. The original Prius was a technology gamble for some, and the Mirai may be the same success story. Time will tell.