The Biggest Problem With The Toyota Mirai? It’s Boring



This is not going to be your typical “Chris complains that hydrogen cars are inefficient and silly” story. No, today I want to take some time and complain about the Toyota’s seeming lack of enthusiasm for its own product. The Toyota Mirai has managed to take a technology a lot of people should be excited for, and made it boring. These videos are a perfect example of how it seems like Toyota isn’t even trying to get people hyped up about hydrogen.

Production of the Toyota Mirai is taking place at the former Lexus LFA supercar factory, and with just 13 workers on the assembly line production is limited to 10 cars a day, at most. Toyota is investing an additional $165 million to boost production on what it says is higher-than-expected demand, and yet it feels like they’re doing everything they can to make the Mirai as boring as a Camry.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the first 49-second clip, in its entirety, if you can.

Instead of giving us a single video with some narration, a story that mentions the factory’s history, and why the technology in the Mirai is cool…we get five thrown-together clips of Japanese workers stoically assembling a vehicle that is supposed to represent the future of transportation, in a low-tech warehouse setting that couldn’t look less cutting edge. I’ve taken factory tours of plants like the Ford Rouge facility where they build the Ford F-150, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from the company that popularized (but didn’t actually develop) the assembly line method of manufacturing.

I thought to myself “Surely, there’s more to these videos that I’m missing. Surely Toyota wants to hype up its hydrogen flagship more than this.” But no, we don’t even get captions informing us what the hell is being installed or any sort of nerdy techie goodness that some of us actually enjoy. These videos really capture the monotony of building the Mirai, that’s for sure.

Yet the problems with the Mirai go well beyond it’s bland looks and boring videos. With 0 to 60 MPH time reportedly be in the 9 second range, it’s going to be slow compared to even the most modest family sedan. With its $58,000 price tag, the Mirai will be no faster than the $30,000 Nissan LEAF. It’s even worse than that though, because much lesser cars will be much quicker. My $18,000 Chevy Sonic 1.4T, an economy car in every sense of the word, is a full second faster to 60 MPH. There aren’t many cars with a price tag north of $50,000 that take 9 seconds to reach 60 MPH, because the kind of person spending that kind of money on a luxury item is generally trying to buy a car with presence, poise, and power. Who wants to pay good money for an unexciting lump that barely gets noticed?

I know I come off as a hydrogen fuel cell hater, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that I really do want to be excited about this technology. But besides the “greener” fuel source, what else sets the Mirai apart? It’s not fast, it’s not sexy, it’s not particularly techie. It’s just a funky-looking Camry that uses hydrogen instead of gasoline.

It’s almost as if Toyota really isn’t ready for showtime, but because of California’s zero-emissions mandate, and because for whatever ideological reasons it has ruled out EVs, the automaker doesn’t have any other choice.

In all fairness to Toyota, many of the arguments levied against hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are also made against electric cars. The infrastructure isn’t there, the vehicles are too expensive, and fossil fuels still play a major role in power generation. These are all things that can be sorted out in relatively short order, as electric cars have showed us. But electric cars are suceeding with the help of far more compelling vehicles than the Mirai. Sure, the Nissan LEAF is just a fancy Versa, but it’s different enough and affordable enough for an average car shopper to consider.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Tesla Model S, which launched with a lot heck of a lot more fanfare and hype, which I credit in part to the availability of a high-performance option from the onset. It’s a lot easier to get somebody excited about horsepower and acceleration numbers than it is air quality and fast fueling times. That’s why we have the Formula E, which highlights how exciting electric cars can be.

It’s not a stretch to imagine a faster Mirai; it is still powered by electric motors after all; hydrogen is just the energy storage mechanism. Perhaps Toyota thought achieving 300 miles of range was more important than additional horsepower, but it’d be easier to get people excited about a 300 horsepower hydrogen car, at least where I come from. Toyota did say they’re going to take the Mirai rally racing, which gives me some hope…but it doesn’t look that entails much in the way of performance modifications, so much as it is a sticker package with a roll cage tossed in for good measure. Blech.

Personally, I like the idea of plugging my car in at home, using my own rooftop solar array, as opposed hydrogen’s promise of maintaining the status quo, at least in terms of where we refuel. But if Toyota truly believes in hydrogen the way their press releases make it sound, then get excited damnit! Make a more compelling video than this at the very least! It’s hard for me to take hydrogen seriously if this is all the effort Toyota is going to put into its marketing. Maybe the automaker is just biding its time, waiting for the right moment to launch a fuel cell marketing assault.

Just don’t give me anymore dancing animals. Kia has pretty much ruined that commercial category for at least a decade with their pretentious hamsters.

About the Author

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.

  • Steve Hanley

    What have you got against hamsters? ; – )

  • D Barker

    It to me has too many moving parts and doesn’t seem that it will be reliable. This car is butt ugly with it’s big ugly bumpers. Reminds me of a teenager who puts a big bumper kit on his moms Camry and then leaves the stock wheels on.

  • zn

    Oh Toyota, what’s going on with you guys? History is littered with the bones of companies that ignored the tide of the future. Hydrogen was perhaps an even bet against electric 10 years ago, but not now. I get the feeling Toyota knows the Mirai is doomed but they’re already in too deep to make an early exit, so they’re forced to just ride this one out and let the Mirai tank as painlessly as possible.

    • Chris DeMorro

      Toyota is truly being forced to put out zero-emissions vehicles, and I think they see hydrogen as the “safe” choice. Hydrogen cars operate just like gas cars, with the exception of their fuel. It’s “familiar” in the same way a Toyota Camry is.

      They think they’re making the safer bet, but they couldn’t be more wrong.

      • zn

        It’s funny but I see it the other way round. I think Toyota saw hydrogen as the option that no one else was taking, and they thought if we can show this really works before EVs hit the market, we can establish a dominant market position and reap in the profits. It was a risky bet that could have paid off big time if it worked. They probably would have got away with it too if it weren’t for that pesky Elon Musk…

    • Ash45

      It’s probably mostly because Japan wants to be less reliant on oil, hence the push there for FCV’s via tax incentives and rebates. And in the US, it’s all about the CARB credits.

      I think Toyota is also suffering from sunk cost fallacy. They already invested untold billions into hydrogen. So if they abandoned it altogether, it wouldn’t look very good for all that research they spent money on. Never mind that GM also spent billions on FCV’s as well.

      So of course “increased demand to 3000 cars” is going to have to sound sexy. Never mind that tens of thousands of EV’s will be on the road by 2020.

      • zn

        You’re probably right about the sunk cost blind spot. Good money after bad, and all that. I also can’t help but feel that Toyota has an axe to grind with Tesla after their failed Rav4 EV experiment. Whatever their motivation, it’s not showing much promise right now.

  • Marc P

    It’s butt ugly… nuf said.

  • Tom Capon

    Yes, they are biding their time. In 10 years when they can build more than a couple thousand fuel cell stacks a year the marketing campaign will really heat up.

    • zn

      10 years! Ye gods man!! If that’s Toyota’s ‘Master Plan’ then they are well and truly screwed. Tesla will probably be worth a trillion dollars by then and the big auto makers will be competing to be the first to market with a 1000 mile range.

      *Hyperbolic yes, but you get the point.

  • rsexton

    Probably makes some sense for Japan which may be a bit poor for electricity. Also (top) speed and distance traveled. Maybe. But with more land and lots of sunshine (Vegas for instance or Arizona not to mention California which doesn’t even have a winter as far as i am concerned) and some long distances maybe not as much sense. Really we need a good solid 300 mile range for traveling between states conveniently. I travel about 260 miles one way every month and its a round trip. So even Tesla is a bit short, but they do have ‘super chargers’ in Barstow and Prim. But not as convenient as not stopping. Still it is coming along and the vast majority of driving is well under 100 miles a day.

  • Shane 2

    The ugliest car to come to market in my lifetime.

    • zn

      Perhaps, unless Mercedes decides to bring their self-driving F 015 concept to market. That thing is a hideous.

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  • smartacus

    doesn’t look any worse than a CR-Z