Is The Toyota Mirai The Next Edsel?

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The Toyota Mirai is supposed to be the future of alternative fuels, and the automaker is hoping to replicate the success of the Prius with its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Yet with a high price, polarizing looks, and perhaps a little too much hype, the Toyota Mirai looking more like the next Edsel.

In the late 1950s, Ford launched the Edsel brand with a car famously described as looking like “am Oldsmobile sucking a lemon” in a bid to make it stand out. Customers flocked to showrooms to see the unveiling, but left without placing an order, underwhelmed by what many considered to be just another, kinda-funky Ford. Just a couple of years after its launch, the Edsel brand was dead and forever ruined, due in parts to its looks but also because the marketing hype didn’t meet consumer expectations.

Prior to the launch of the Edsel, Ford ran a nationwide ad campaign hyping up the car as something new and exciting, a real game changer. Despite offering a lot of cool techie features though, consumers weren’t exactly wowed by the high-price and complicated technology. The polarizing horse-collar grille also created a love-it-or-hate-it sentiment among consumers.
If all of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because Toyota is pursuing a similarly aggressive hype campaign for a vehicle that really only offers an incremental improvement over conventional cars or electric vehicles. Toyota claims nobody wants to buy EVs, yet Tesla Model S sales are taking a big bite out of sales of established luxury automakers.

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Then there’s the look of the Mirai, which can best be described as a swing and a miss. While the front and rear fascia were designed to look futuristic, the entire middle section of the car is as plain as a four-door sedan could be Then there’s those awful, awful side vents, which Toyota claims drive air to the extra radiators required for the fuel cell stack. What they’ve actually done though is create a polarizing but mostly-awful feature that distracts people from seeing anything else. If anybody thinks the Mirai is a good looking car, please leave a comment below, because so far I haven’t heard one positive review of its looks.

That alone is enough to turn a lot of people off to Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, but in fairness the original Prius wasn’t much of a looker either. Today the Prius dominates the hybrid car market and has even become synonymous with the world. But the Prius also had virtually no competition, and by the time it did it was already the go-to hybrid for a lot of car buyers. It also doesn’t cost all that much more than a comparable conventional car, whereas the Mirai costs almost twice the average new car cost in America.

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There’s also the fact that the Prius can fill-up anywhere and was rolled out nationwide; meanwhile the Mirai will only be sold in limited numbers in a handful of locations around the world. Just 700 are expected to be sold by the end of 2015, centered around the few dozen operational hydrogen fueling stations, which makes the 10% range advantage the Mirai offers over the Model S seem kinda pointless.

With a paltry 134 horsepower, the Mirai isn’t likely to wow many speed enthusiasts either, leaving just true believers to take the plunge. Once you start really digging into the technical aspects of hydrogen, and realize just how much energy (often sourced from fracking) it takes to create said hydrogen, and one can understand why Elon Musk would call fuel cell vehicles “bullshit.”

The barriers to the success of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are far more than those facing electric vehicles. Toyota may be trying to play the long game, but I think it’ll take a much better car than the Mirai to convince people that this is truly the path forward.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.