Twenty-five years ago in Japan I was told we would all be driving hydrogen powered cars in 20 years£€™ time. And over the years I have driven quite a few hydrogen fuel cell cars but cars for the ordinary motorist seem as far away as ever.
Last week I tried the latest, the Toyota Mirai, whose name means future in Japanese, on normal town roads and motorways. But is costs £61,000 and that£€™s after a £5,000 Government £€˜green energy£€™ grant.
Toyota hopes to sell 15 of the hand built cars in the UK this year, though there are only a handful of filling stations and you can£€™t top the car up at the roadside if you run out because the fuel system is pressurised at a huge 700 bar.
So, to kick start the market the Toyota says bravely it will built 30,000 fuel cell cars by 2020. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe and represents unlimited fuel but it is expensive to produce commercially and only six per cent is made using clean energy.
In the Mirai a fuel cell £€˜stack£€™ of cells converts the on-board hydrogen with oxygen from the outside air into electricity to drive an electric motor. Performance isn£€™t very exciting with only a 154bhp electric motor to move a weight of 1840kg but in normal use it feels more than adequate.
The motor drives the front wheels via a fixed ratio gearbox. Though hydrogen contains much less energy than petrol or diesel the Mirai has a real world range of about 300 miles.
It is very easy to drive and very quiet. If you can drive a circus dodgem car you can drive a Mirai. Tyre noise is the most prominent sound but acoustic glass reduces this. All you hear are some whirrs and whooshes.
The steering is rather vague and the brakes a little stiff, as with any hybrid as they go about their work of reclaiming kinetic energy to charge the electric batteries. The ride is soft and at 70mph the car sounds like a distant vacuum cleaner.
Over 40 miles the Mirai averaged 1.0kg for 100 kilometres. Refilling the tanks takes about five minutes. Pressurised hydrogen gas is sold by the kilogram for £10 to £15. The only exhaust emissions are water. The system automatically purges excess or you can press a button to empty the tank to avoid flooding the garage.
For ease of entry and exit the electrically adjustable driver£€™s seat and steering wheel both move apart when the car is powered down. The dashboard has two TFT displays; a long one under the windscreen with speedometer and power use functions, and a larger touch screen device for information and entertainment.
The Mirai is streamlined with a drag co-efficient of just 0.29 and is a spacious saloon for four. Over the last eight years Toyota has reduced the size of the fuel cell stack under the front seats by half and doubled its power output.
The bespoke interior is sleek and modern and you sit high. The 361 litre boot is oddly shaped because of the battery pack and second hydrogen tank behind the seat backs. The tanks are aircraft spec. You could balance 150 Toyota Aygos on one and not crush it.
Toyota expects the fuel stack to last for up to 300,000 miles before it needs renovating, but I have heard of 80,000 mile limits from other car makers.
Most fuel cell cars are actually based on SUVs because of the size and weight of equipment so the Mirai is a big step forward that will be viewed keenly by rival car makers.
Verdict The hydrogen fuel cell car comes over the horizon.