All Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars Are Compliance Cars, For Now

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2016 Toyota Mirai  -  Quick Drive  -  Portland, July 2015  [photo: Doug Berger]

2016 Toyota Mirai - Quick Drive - Portland, July 2015 [photo: Doug Berger]

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When the first Honda Insight and Toyota Prius hybrids launched in 1999 and 2000, expectations for their sales were low.

And hybrids indeed logged annual sales in the low thousands until the second-generation Prius came along for 2004.

But the sales numbers for the earliest hybrids look stratospheric compared to the projections for sales of hydrogen fuel-cell cars in their first few years.

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Toyota has said it plans to make 700 of its Mirai fuel-cell model for the 2016 model year--for all  markets--and boost that number to 2,000 next year and 3,000 the year after.

The car's chief engineer, Yoshikazu Tanaka, told industry trade journal Automotive News in April that 3,000 is the limit on annual Mirai production until a "drastic technological revolution" could be achieved.

The challenge is the process of etching the conduits on each of the 370 cells--which are only 1.3 millimeters thick--that make up the Mirai's fuel cell stack.

2016 Toyota Mirai construction at Motomachi plant

2016 Toyota Mirai construction at Motomachi plant

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Still, the company hopes to sell 3,000 Mirais in the U.S. between now and the end of 2017. That represents more than half of total production.

Of the first-year production of 700 cars, 300 are dedicated to the U.S. and European markets.

The first Mirai is expected to be delivered this month to a buyer within a few specific regions of California where nearby hydrogen fueling stations are open and operating.

ALSO SEE: 10 Questions On Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars To Ask Toyota, Honda & Hyundai

Toyota has said it expects Mirai sales to grow to a total of 30,000 units by 2020, when the world's attention is focused on the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Of those, 12,000 will be for the Japanese domestic market.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell mid-size sedan was launched last week at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, 2015 Tokyo Motor Show

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Honda plans to put it on sale in Japan, limited regions of the U.S., and other markets over the next year.

But the car's chief engineer, Kiyoshi Shimizu, was quoted in the Japan Times as saying that the company initially planned to sell only 200 units a year of the Clarity in Japan.

The first year's production run for the country has been entirely booked by government agencies and corporate fleets, he said.

If Japan, with its growing hydrogen fueling infratructure, represents perhaps 40 percent of early Clarity sales, that might indicate a production run of 500 to 1,000 cars a year.

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