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The Long Road to Mirai

Posted by: on April 3rd, 2015 Comments Off

 

‘Mirai’ may mean ‘Future’ in Japanese, but Toyota’s first mass production fuel cell car has origins as far back as the mid-nineties. That is when the Japanese manufacturer laid out a strategy that was aimed at guaranteeing sustainable mobility for the 21st century.

 

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Toyota’s goal was threefold. First, to improve overall efficiency, allowing drivers to do more with less. Secondly, to diversify the energy sources used to propel cars, in order to reduce dependence on dwindling oil reserves. And finally, to reduce the environmental impact of personal mobility. 

 

Hybrid is the cradle

To this day, the most legendary heir of that strategy is the petrol-hybrid Prius. By combining a petrol engine with an electric motor, the concept behind Prius was as simple as it was ingenious. On the one hand, the car was able to recapture energy that traditionally goes to waste under braking, and store it in a compact on-board battery. And on the other hand, this battery fed an electric motor that could step in to support the engine, reducing its thirst for fuel. Through a clever gearbox, the system allowed petrol and electric to work in perfect symbiosis, and even permitted the engine to run as often as possible in its most efficient rev-range. Any surplus power was simply turned into electricity and sent to the battery.

 

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Seen by many at first as little more than an oddity, Prius and its powertrain gradually won fans. Technology lovers chose it for its high tech content, environmentalists for the greener form of transport that it promoted. And when the rich and famous embraced it and started selecting it over the luxury barges and supercars that they preferred in the past, awareness and appreciation rocketed.

Today, hybrid technology has found its way into various other models of the Toyota range. One in three Yaris sold in Europe today is hybrid and the same goes for 40% of all Auris. Nor is Toyota longer alone as a hybrid manufacturer: in recent years, other brands have started to follow suit – including some of the brands that had been highly critical of the technology at the beginning.

 

Battery electric vehicles for last mile mobility

Less well known, is that Toyota’s plans extended much further. Its strategy placed hybrid at the heart of the future car market, but it also foresaw a clear role for electric vehicles. Having invested in battery research in its own Physical and Chemical Research institute founded as far back as 1940, Toyota didn’t hold out much hope for a sudden break-through in batteries that would suddenly make EVs a valid mass-market alternative for the regular family car. However, it did see opportunities for small battery-powered vehicles as an alternative for urban, last-mile mobility. In such usage, driving range is less of a priority, so the battery pack can be kept compact and light, in itself helping efficiency. The latest personification of this concept is the Toyota i-Road, which is deployed in pilot car-sharing programmes in Japan and in the French city of Grenoble.

 

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Fuel Cell for high mileage vehicles

At the other end of the scale, for large vehicles designed for long distance travel, Toyota started researching Fuel Cell technology. Using hydrogen as a source for on-board electricity generation yielded a very different type of electric vehicle: one that was not limited by range or by recharging time.

In the subsequent development of EVs and Fuel Cell cars, Toyota relied heavily on the architecture it had devised for its hybrid powertrains. The principle of energy recuperation was applied to both vehicle types, whereas the hybrid concept was adopted in its entirety for the Fuel Cell prototypes.  Here, the petrol engine from a traditional hybrid was simply replaced by a Fuel Cell stack, and the petrol tank by hydrogen tanks.

Today, after more than fifteen years of development, Mirai’s basic architecture borrows from that of the very first Prius. And several parts of its powertrain, such as the motor and the traction battery, are proven components that are shared with other Toyota hybrids.

Going forward, Toyota Fuel Cell cars can be expected to continue to benefit from the company’s ever strengthening expertise of hybrid technology.

 

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Toyota Mirai production starts for Japanese market

Posted by: on December 15th, 2014 Comments Off

 

This week, the Motomachi-plant in Toyota City starts mass production of the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car. A historic moment for Toyota, which also underlines the expertise and the know-how off the work-force at this Toyota City based plant.

Toyota Mirai

The Motomachi factory is one of the oldest in the Toyota group. Located nearby the group headquarters in Toyota City, it started operations in 1959 with the production of the legendary Toyopet Crown.

Today, the plant employs approximately 7000 workers, most of them

Toyota Crown

 

 

 

 

involved in the production of models for the Japanese market, such as the Crown and the Mark X.

 

But since 2008, a small unit of highly skilled employees is assigned tospecial projects that require a lot of care, acting as pioneers within Toyota’s production workforce. This is the team that built the limited-run Lexus LFA supercar, and now, they have turned their attention to the Toyota Mirai.

They have a dual role: supplying the first mass-produced fuel cell car and gathering experience for future generations of the Toyota hydrogen-powered models.

The first months of Mirai production are destined for the Japanese market, but as from summer 2015, Motomachi will also start churning out cars for Europe and the US.

 

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It’s the same, but is it…? Toyota at Tokyo Motor Show 2013

Posted by: on November 18th, 2013 2 Comments

Toyota FCV Concept

Toyota’s pioneering hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, the Toyota FCV Concept, will have its world debut at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show starting November 20. Don’t worry if you can’t make it, we’ve got all the juicy bits after the break. Click through to find out.

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Toyota and Lexus at 2011 #IAA Frankfurt

Posted by: on September 15th, 2011 2 Comments

Toyota FT-86 II Concept an IAA Frankfurt 2011

Shortly after landing at Frankfurt Airport, we headed directly to the exhibition hall, or Messe, to help with the final bits and pieces before the doors opened on Tuesday morning for the Press Days of the 2011 IAA Frankfurt Motor Show. It was an interesting experience for me to say the least. In Geneva, I arrived when everything was already sparkling under the spotlights. This time, I could really get a sense of how much work actually goes into putting up a display at motor shows.

The exhibition centre in Frankfurt is just immense. After the first few hours there, I quickly realised that my colleagues were not joking when they told me the Frankfurt Motor Show was quite a bit bigger than Geneva.

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Our Future Mobility Now event in Brussels 22nd-25th June 2011

Posted by: on May 10th, 2011 1 Comment

Toyota Motor Europe has teamed up with the folks over at Our Future Mobility Now * to help bring tomorrow’s drivers and leading European manufacturers together at a live, creative event this summer.

Our Future Mobility Now is a project that brings together the mobile generation of the future and Europe’s leading vehicle manufacturers. Involving Toyota and other European manufacturers, the project is looking to build a community that imagines how the vehicles and transport we use will evolve and influence 21st Century life. Europe’s brightest young talent are invited to get involved and have a say on the big issues facing the transport industry, such as:

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