FUEL-CELL FUTURE: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drives Toyota's new commercial fuel-cell vehicle during at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan. Image: AP/ Eugene Hoshiko.
TOKYO, Japan - Toyota has been swamped by orders for its first mass-market hydrogen fuel-cell car with demand in the first month nearly four times higher than expected for all of 2015.
The company said it had taken orders for more than 1500 of the Mirai sedan since its launch in mid-December 2014. It had planned to sell 400 in Japan over a year.
Roughly 60% of orders were from government and corporate fleets, the rest from individuals.
POSSIBLE DELIVERY DELAYS
The unexpected high demand for the environmentally-friendly four-door car which, in Japan, will cost the equivalent of R652 000, means early buyers might have a bit of a wait.
Toyota said: "Due to the large volume of orders Toyota forecasts a significantly longer time to delivery than expected."
Fuel-cell cars are seen as the Holy Grail of green cars because they're powered by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen which generates electricity but sends only water out of the exhaust. Critics, however, point out that coal probably has to be burned somewhere to generate the electricity to separate water into its two elements first...
Short driving range and lack of refuelling stations have hampered development of fuel cells and their cousin, bettery cars, which environmentalists say could play a vital role in cutting "greenhouse" gas emissions and slowing global warming.
The Mirai can travel about 650km between refuelling with liquid hydrogen, three times further than most battery cars, and its tank can be filled in a few minutes like petrol-powered vehicles, according to Toyota.
GLOBAL SALES PLANNED
The car will hit the US and some European countries, among them Britain, Germany and Denmark, through 2015 and Toyota hopes to be selling more than 3000 a year by the end of 2017 in the US and around 100 a year in Europe.
Japanese automakers, among them Toyota rivals Honda and Nissan, have been leaders in the "green-car" sector. Honda unveiled the newest version of its FCV, also a fuel-cell car, at the 2015 Detroit auto show. It's due in showrooms in 2016.
Toyota has announced it is seeking thousands of its patents for fuel-cell vehicles royalty-free in an effort to encourage other automakers to "go fuel-cell".
News of the rapid success of the Mirai, which means "future" in Japanese, came a week after the Tokyo metropolitan government announced that the athletes' village for the 2020 Olympic Games would be a futuristic "hydrogen town".
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe wants all government departments to use fuel-cell cars and pledged to cut red tape around hydrogen fuel stations.