Will Future Tesla Model S Top Toyota Mirai's 312-Mile Range?

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Tesla Model S P85D, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Tesla Model S P85D, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Hydrogen fuel-cell cars today have many similarities to electric cars.

Both employ advanced zero-emission powertrains that power the wheels with electric motors, both cost more to buy than gasoline cars of the same size, and both represent only a tiny fraction of today's car market.

The main advantage to fuel-cell vehicles, say the companies that are launching them, are longer range and faster "refueling" to achieve that range.

DON'T MISS: 2016 Toyota Mirai Fuel-Cell Sedan: 312 Miles Of Range, 67 MPGe

Last week's news that the 2016 Toyota Mirai is rated by the EPA at 312 miles of range, when its hydrogen tanks are full, gives it the longest range of any zero-emission vehicle--ahead of every battery-electric car.

The only electric car that comes close to the Mirai's range is the Tesla Model S; its longest-range version is the Model S 85D, which can travel 270 miles on a single full recharge.

Under optimal conditions, a Model S using the highest-powered Supercharger fast-charging station can recharge to 80 percent of capacity in 20 to 30 minutes.

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car, Newport Beach, CA, Nov 2014

That's clearly longer than the 3 to 10 minutes claimed for refueling a Mirai at an optimal hydrogen station.

Under CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is working not only to launch its Model X electric crossover this year, but also to expand its Supercharger network both in North America and abroad.

But Musk--whose views of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are negative, to say the least--is undoubtedly aware of the talking points behind fuel-cell vehicles.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Sedan (Dec 2014)

And there's an easy way to counter one of the two advantages of the Mirai: Simply unveil a new top-end Tesla Model S with a range of, say, 320 miles.

There have been consistent rumors about higher-capacity battery packs for future Tesla "large" cars, namely the Model S and Model X.

But while the base Model S 60 has been replaced by a 70D version, with a battery 10 kilowatt-hours larger, the high end has stayed at 85 kWh for more than three years.

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

2015 Tesla Model S 70D, Apr 2015 [photo: David Noland]

While it's not an exact parallel, it's worth noting that GM boosted the energy capacity of the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car's battery in 2013, 2015, and again for the all-new 2016 Volt that will go on sale later this year.

Nissan is similarly rumored to be planning a 2016 Leaf with more than 100 miles of range due to a pack enlarged from 24 to 30 kWh.

So perhaps it's time for Tesla to offer a larger battery. A 100-kWh pack in a new 100D model might come in at 315 to 325 miles, scaling up proportionally from the current 85D's 270-mile rating.

MORE: Can Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles Compete With Electric Cars? (Dec 2013)

That would leave the Mirai with the advantage in price and "fueling" time, but put the Model S ahead not only on available infrastructure, seating capacity, performance--and to many eyes looks--but also on range.

Tesla's said nothing official about a longer-range Model S, but we wouldn't be all that surprised if one appears after the Model X is in production. It could even be a new high-end battery used in both vehicles.

Stay tuned on this one.

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