Tesla Motors and Toyota are driving a titanic technology battle over the future of cars. Tesla is launching disruptive technologies tied to electric batteries and autonomous driving. Toyota launched the Mirai, which uses hydrogen as the world’s disruptive fuel solution.
I test-drove both the Mirai and the Tesla Model S. Both are stunning cars. And both could mean a lot for our future.
My Model S test-drive
If you test-drive a Tesla, you will never forget the experience. Here are the key takeaways from my Model S test drive:
Fast! This car accelerates at the speed of electrons. Step down hard on the accelerator, and you will be aggressively pushed back into the plush car seat. For straight-line acceleration, I would take this car over any V-8 muscle car.
Great ride/handling. The Model S is four-wheel drive. It has software to adjust the driving experience between luxury cruising, urban (normal) and sport. You get three enjoyable driving experiences in one car.
Quiet. This car is very quiet. There is nothing like it among fossil-fueled cars.
Unbelievable amount of storage. This four-passenger car has the storage capacity of an SUV! With the rear seats folded, I easily stored my full-size mountain bike. And I still had the front truck space for suitcases.
Zero emissions. Because too many of us do not buy cars based on their emissions, we increasingly feel guilty over choosing style and performance rather than human/planet health. The Model S delivers looks and guilt-free performance. It has zero tailpipe emissions. If you join the increasing number of homeowners who are installing solar, then recharging the Model S can also be zero emissions.
No range anxiety. Recharging an electric car depends on your access to electricity. On most days (and weeks), recharging is as easy as plugging the vehicle in at home. For longer trips, recharging is a challenge. Tesla addresses this challenge in two ways. First, it is building out a national network of free recharging stations. Second, the navigation system in the Model S enables voice command instructions that will plot a trip that includes recharging. The navigation system steers you to recharging stops that typically take 10 minutes to complete.
This five-minute video explains it all:
My Toyota Mirai test-drive
I was stunned at how much I liked the hydrogen-fueled Toyota Mirai. This is not a Prius. It is a fast car that handles great. Here are the key takeaways from test-driving the Mirai:
Fun acceleration. I drive a Prius C. It's a great car in terms of handling, comfort and economy. It accelerates okay. The Mirai, on the other hand, accelerates great. It will push you back in your seat when you punch the accelerator. Few gasoline cars will beat the Mirai accelerating up a highway ramp.
Handles like a sports car. It is not a Porsche, but the Mirai is fun on a twisty road. It is also a smooth-riding car. You can hotrod it around the curves or just relax and enjoy the ride.
Full size. The Mirai will seat five comfortably. There is plenty of truck space. In fact, everything about the Mirai is comfortable and accommodating.
Zero air emissions, sort of. The advantage of hydrogen is that its combustion results in only water vapor as a tailpipe emission. The emissions challenge is in producing hydrogen. Most of the hydrogen being produced has a significant emissions footprint. For example, the most often used technology is reforming natural gas.
Refueling is a challenge. The Mirai has a 300-mile driving range on one tank of hydrogen, assuming a 67 miles per gallon fuel economy equivalent. But the closest hydrogen refueling station near my Oceanside California home is a 20- to 30-minute drive away. Who wants a 30-minute commute to refuel?
Here’s my 90-second video of my Mirai test-drive:
Our disruptive technology path into the 21st century
Our 21st century is at a disruptive technology crossroads. We're still buying 20th-century technology at our car dealerships. But this technology is reaching the end of its sustainability due to Middle Eastern wars and global warming. The great news is that automakers like Tesla and Toyota have solutions. We only have to buy them.
One of the reasons we are not buying these solutions is because most of us cannot take the risk of betting on the wrong technology. We were here before in the 20th century, where we had to choose Betamax or VHS. In the end, neither were the solution. It was the cloud, digital streaming, smartphones, Netflix and, now, Pokémon Go.
That is where car technologies are today. The Tesla Model S and Toyota Maria are cool cars. But they will be history soon as the next generation of disruptive technologies gain economies of scale. For example, the all-electric Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt have 2017 delivery dates. Both offer more affordable $35,000 prices (before incentives) plus a 200-mile driving range between recharging.
Even these cars may not be the 21st century’s transportation future. Autonomous cars are on the horizon. This technology has the potential to remove the need to own or drive a car.
But until then, the Model S is my choice for a zero-emissions car. The Toyota Mirai is a great car in search of a fuel supply solution. The Model S hits all the hot tech buttons. It is fast, fun to drive and very cool. And if it could introduce me to Jennifer Garner, then I'd be at the bank today begging for a car loan!
Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!