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Toyota Mirai rated at U.S. range of 312 miles

Toyota Motor Corp. said today that its hydrogen-powered Mirai has an estimated U.S. range of 312 miles between refueling stops, giving Toyota’s emissions-free sedan one key edge over battery-powered cars such as the Tesla Model S.

The Mirai, slated to go on sale this fall in California at a base price of $58,325 before incentives, gets its power by sending hydrogen gas through an electrochemical fuel cell to run an electric motor. Toyota also said today that the Mirai is rated at 67 MPGe on the EPA test cycle, better than any gasoline-fueled car on sale in the United States, including Toyota’s own Prius hybrid.

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz announced the range and fuel economy figures today at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of business and political leaders in the resort town of Aspen, Colo.

“Just as the Prius introduced hybrid-electric vehicles to millions of customers,” he said, the Mirai will “usher in a new era of efficient hydrogen transportation.”

Surpassing the Model S is a point of pride for Toyota.

The automaker was an early investor in Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, buying its electric powertrains from 2012 to 2014 to power the limited-run Toyota Rav4 EV. It later became a technological foe as Tesla CEO Elon Musk started to publicly label hydrogen fuel cells as “fool cells.”

“I just think they’re extremely silly,” Musk told reporters after an appearance at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit this January.

Tesla has sought to differentiate its electric cars with their ample range between visits to a plug. The longest-range version of the Model S, the 85D, can travel 270 miles on a full charge of its 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack.

Carbon footprint

Enthusiasts of battery-electric cars argue that electricity costs less than hydrogen, and is much easier to produce. Yet from an environmental perspective, the Mirai will have a similar carbon footprint to the Model S when it goes on sale in California, said David Reichmuth, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

His analysis shows the Mirai would have carbon emissions equal to a gasoline car that gets 86 mpg, compared to 82 mpg for the Model S 85D and 94 mpg for the Model S 70D, with its smaller electric motor and battery pack.

This is because California requires that least one-third of its hydrogen come from renewable sources such as solar power rather than from fossil fuels. The state projects that 46 percent of its hydrogen will soon be renewably sourced.

Fueling points

Still, it remains to be seen whether the Mirai’s hefty driving range can help the car overcome a lack of fueling infrastructure.

Only a dozen hydrogen stations are open to the public nationwide, according to a U.S. Department of Energy database, though California is funding dozens more. To help the infrastructure along, Toyota granted a $7.3 million loan to startup FirstElement Fuel Inc. last year to build 19 hydrogen stations in California.

Toyota plans to sell about 3,000 units of the Mirai by the end of 2017. And for moments when a 312-mile range is not enough, the company will offer Mirai owners a complimentary rental car for seven days a year for three years.