With Toyota’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV), Mirai, now available, many wait to see if this revolutionary car with take off or fall flat in Japan. On 25 December, JX Nippon Oil & Energy began selling hydrogen for these new vehicles at a cost of 1,000 yen per kilogram (US$8/kg – $3.60/lb).

So is that worth giving up the pumps for…whatever hydrogen comes out of?

■ Hybrid vs Hydrogen

Obviously fuel economy is a tricky thing to compare as any number of factors can effect it, from the engine to the driver’s technique to the amount of air in the tires and so on. Since the Mirai is a Toyota let’s keep the comparison in-house and match it against the company’s best-selling car of 2013 in Japan, the Aqua (AKA the Prius c in other countries).

By Japanese test standards, the Prius c gets 35 km/L (82mpg). According to JX Nippon Oil & Energy rate for hydrogen filling up a Mirai would cost 4,300 yen (US$36) which would power it for 650km (404mi). Equating a kilogram of hydrogen to a litre of gasoline and adding in sales tax this would give us fuel economy of 140km/L (329mpg). That sounds great but we still have to factor in the cost of hydrogen compared to gasoline.

■ The bottom line

Putting these figures into monetary values a Mirai driven by hydrogen will get you 0.14km per one yen (14km/US$1 – 8.7mi/$1) whereas gasoline in a Prius c can carry you 0.25km/yen (25km/US$1 – 15.5mi/$1) based on the national average price of gas as of this writing (hydrogen’s price will be constant nationwide). It might be a little unfair to pit the Mirai against one of the most fuel-efficient cars out there, so for another comparison, a Honda Civic HF (non-hybrid) will go only 0.13km (0.08mi) on one yen.

▼ The Mirai’s fuel system, the yellow cylinders are the hydrogen tanks

■ And then there’s the price of the car…

So, the Mirai is sort of efficient in terms of money but gets beat out by hybrids rather easily. Added to that you have to consider the Mirai’s price tag of 7,236,000 yen ($60,500), mercifully down from the nine million-plus reported earlier. The fact that there is currently only one hydrogen filling station in the entire country that JX Nippon Oil & Energy supplies doesn’t help either. Their first hydrogen station opened in Ebina, Kanagawa on Christmas Day and ten more in other parts of Japan are expected to have popped up by next March.

■ Galapagos car?

Online, people are greeting the news with mixed feelings. Some are confident that the price of hydrogen and car will start to go down once the proper production and infrastructure is established. However, others feel this whole venture will prove to be a waste of time with one writing “They should call it the Japan-only Galapagos car,” referring to Japan’s once superior mobile phones and network which only allowed them to thrive inside their own country. These Galapagos phones, however, got swiftly taken down by the invasive species of smartphones.

Indeed it would seem the destiny of the Mirai and others like it rests in how well the infrastructure can get put into place. It would be a shame if the FCV didn’t catch on consider the benefits it has such as no CO2 emissions and no reliance on fossil fuels resulting in a (hopefully) more stable and (super-hopefully) lower fuel price.

Source: Itai News, Yahoo! Japan News, Toyota Japan, Gogo.gs (Japanese)