Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk recently introduced a new line of batteries to help solve the energy storage problems with his luxury electric cars. Too bad for him Toyota’s plans for a hydrogen powered car could upend Musk’s designs.
The Toyota Mirai, a four-seater sedan, is challenging Tesla’s Model S for the spot of “car of the future,” getting its power from hydrogen tanks under the sedan’s seats instead of relying electricity and battery storage.
The Mirai began selling in California last October, but has been slow to catch on. While Toyota has put a lot of resources behind the vehicle, there are only about a dozen hydrogen fuel stations in the country and people are still skeptical of how safe the car is — remember the Hindenberg?
“If you’re going to pick an energy source mechanism, hydrogen is an incredibly dumb one to pick,” Musk said in January. “It doesn’t make sense, and that will become apparent in the next few years.”
But Musk’s comments may signal a sense of insecurity about his own position in the alternative vehicle market. The Mirai is already significantly cheaper than the Model S — the hydrogen car comes in at $57,500 compared to a Tesla at $69,000.
The Murai also takes only 5 minutes to refuel, compared to the 5 hours it takes a Model S to refuel. Even if a driver buys the Tesla “supercharger,” refueling still takes 20 minutes — four times longer than the Mirai. The Toyota can also drive 300 miles on a tank before having to refuel.
But here’s the kicker: the Mirai is said to be more eco-friendly than the Model S.
How can that be? The Mirai makes its own energy by “gulping in air and mixing it with hydrogen in a stack of fuel cells,” according to The Washington Post. “The reaction cleanly powers the motor and belches out no exhaust, save for a thin trickle of water.”
Tesla’s Model S, and other all-electric cars for that matter, have to plugged in to get power from the grid. Most of that power is going to be generated by natural gas or coal. Such considerations virtually eliminate the environmental benefits of electric cars, according to researchers.
Numerous studies have been done, showing that electric cars much less eco-friendly than advertised. A 2012 Norwegian study found that “the production phase of electric vehicles proved substantially more environmentally intensive” than producing traditional gas-powered cars.
The study found that electric car factories emit more toxic waste than traditional car factories and carbon dioxide emissions for electric car production is higher if coal is used to charge the vehicles.
Mazda even claims that its new gas-powered engines will emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than electric cars. The Daily Caller reported that Mazda’s SkyActiv uses an “increased compression ratio of 18:1 … and a homogeneous charge-compression ignition” to improve engine efficiency.
Adding to Musk’s woes is that Japan’s government is subsidizing fuel cell vehicles, like the Mirai — much like how the U.S. government subsidizes Teslas and other electric cars.
“Japan is now offering subsidies of 3 million yen, or about $25,000, to buyers of fuel-cell vehicles in Tokyo, which has pledged $375 million worth of hydrogen-related development before the city’s 2020 Olympics,” The Washington Post reports.