Toyota turns ugly duckling Mirai into a swan

TOKYO — Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicle, the quirky car with the mug only a mother could love, gets a radical transformation into a sleek sedan for its second generation.

Toyota says it will unveil the redesign at this month’s Tokyo Motor Show, emerging like an ugly duckling that has matured into an elegant swan.

The complete revamp keeps the car’s hydrogen-powered drivetrain concept. But even that gets an improvement, with 30 percent longer range and better acceleration and performance.

Chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka said the water-emitting power system was redesigned top to bottom.

The Mirai concept, previewed for reporters in Tokyo, is a rear-wheel-drive, five-seat sedan with a low-slung fastback, coupe-styled silhouette. It represents a close-to-market model, according to Toyota.

The production version goes on sale next year in Japan, North America and Europe.

The current Mirai, which seats just four, was launched for limited distribution in 2014. Toyota has sold only about 10,000 since then. But the second generation is part of Toyota’s push to build demand for hydrogen fuel cell technology to position the system as a true clean-car option.

“For that, the car must be more emotional,” Tanaka said. “That is our challenge. We wanted the Mirai to be a car people really wanted to drive — and just happens to be a fuel cell vehicle.”

The new Mirai ditches the first generation’s squat, bulbous proportions and whalelike front grille for a sporty stance, pointy nose and toned-down air intakes.

It shares the modular vehicle platform of the luxury-class Lexus LS flagship sedan, making it lower, longer and wider for a more planted feel than the first Mirai. That GL-A platform was designed to accommodate a variety of powertrains, including hybrids and fuel cells.

The next Mirai also gets a wider tread and longer wheelbase, which helps accommodate more hydrogen storage.

“Fundamentally, it’s a completely different car,” Toyota global design chief Simon Humphries said of the second-generation overhaul. “We needed this car as elegant and beautiful as possible.”

In an effort to cut the car’s cost by half, Toyota is calculating bigger sales volumes and reduced use of pricey raw materials, such as platinum in the fuel cell stack. Toyota expects to make the vehicle in a standard assembly plant. The outgoing Mirai is hand built in a small workshop in Toyota City.

Toyota said in 2015 that it wanted to sell 30,000 fuel cell vehicles a year in 2020, including buses, trucks and forklifts in addition to cars such as the Mirai.