Private hydrogen car sales, whether FCEV or ICE, a long way off in Australia as lack of infrastructure stymies progress

It was meant to be a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Toyota will sell hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV) to private buyers in Australia across its extensive national dealer network.

But previous indications of a 2025 launch date have now been pushed back significantly.

In 2021, Toyota Australia was forecasting showroom sales of the Mirai FCEV by as early as 2024, but that prediction has now blown out to beyond 2030.

“In reality, that [Mirai] is probably a 2030-plus horizon to be quite honest, the way I see it today,” said Toyota Australia’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Sean Hanley.

Speaking at the recent launch of the Hydrogen HiAce – which is currently in a local pilot program and differs from the Mirai in using a hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine – Hanley said the Mirai should still “eventually” become available for private purchase.

But he acknowledged that the current hydrogen refuelling infrastructure – which comprises around half a dozen fuel stations nationally – rules it out.

“You’ve got to have the infrastructure to support that. At the moment we don’t quite have that in the volume that we need,” he said.

“We have infrastructure, but it’s very limited so part of the MOU or the memorandum of understanding joining forces with these other organisations is to try to accelerate that infrastructure.”

Toyota Australia recently signed an MOU with Hyundai Australia, Ampol and Pacific Energy to jointly develop refuelling infrastructure in Australia, and carsales understands that Canberra is a key area of focus.

Originally launched in 2014, the current second-generation Toyota Mirai has a 650km cruising range, can be refuelled in less than 10 minutes and pumps out 134kW of power and 300Nm of torque.

It is available to fleet and government buyers as part of a special leasing agreement, but remains off limits to private customers – for obvious reasons.

Pushing the case for hydrogen cars – and hybrids

In an interview with carsales, Hanley said hydrogen cars may provide a compelling and affordable alternative to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), particularly for people who live in rural areas, travel long distances and require high load-carrying and towing capabilities.

As we’ve reported, the latest hydrogen ICE tech in development with HiAce is also ideally suited to the Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series and other models, including the HiLux ute.

Toyota is committed to launching EVs, starting with the Toyota bZ4X early next year, but is looking to hydrogen and other technologies as part of a ‘multi-pathway’ plan to reduce emissions.

And hybrids remain central to the company’s strategy.

“Like BEV infrastructure, it’s accelerating and it’s happening, but if you suddenly turn the whole country onto BEVs? We don’t have the infrastructure there and despite popular opinion, 68 per cent of our electricity in Australia still comes from the grid and the 32 per cent that comes from solar, hydro and wind has taken at least a decade to get to that percentage,” he said.

“So it’s not going to happen overnight, renewables, and what we’re suggesting is that in the meantime you’ve got to have other solutions – and hybrid vehicles are that solution right now and they’re affordable.

“I drive a BEV and again, if you’re on a city commute, it’s fine. And I don’t want to downplay BEVs because in terms of their performance and their capability, [they’re] fantastic for what I do in the city.

“I drive a Lexus RZ and I love it and I love everything it stands for,” he said.

“What we’re essentially saying is we’re not opposed to BEVs but there’s a transition here and that transition’s got to have choice, and Toyota is advocating for consumer choice that reduces carbon over a period of time.

“We’ve always said, it’s not a case of ‘if’ we need to reduce carbon. We have no choice if you want to survive in this world – you’ve got to reduce your carbon footprint. Our only debate is, how and when.

“And it’s apparent to us right now, when you look at the EV market and you look at the resale and you look at recent headlines coming out of the US about companies that have taken on a lot of EVs that are now saying ‘We’re pulling back’, because it has its challenges in terms of repair costs and residual value costs.

“Then you suddenly look at this massively strong demand, this reinvigoration of demand for hybrid, and I believe Toyota has this [carbon reduction strategy] exactly right.

“Toyota has just come out initially and told the market the truth, the reality of rapid expansion to EV – that’s all Toyota did.

“Now it would seem when you look at some of the headlines that are appearing about other car companies pulling back EV production, pulling back investment because the demand is not as strong as they thought and the costs are more than they thought.

“When you hear about other companies that either have rental or subscription saying, ‘You know, there’s been a cost realisation here, it’s affected our bottom line,’ then I believe our multi-pathway strategy is exactly right.”

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