Toyota Motor Corp (ADR) (NYSE:TM) (TYO:7203) recently announced plans to launch the first fuel-cell car before the year ends. The company is slated to first launch the cars in Japan on December 15th. Car buyers in the United States and Europe will have to wait until the middle of next year before they can access the cars.

Toyota  fuel-cell car

The auto-maker’s executive vice president Mitsuhisa Kato summed it up, “In time, the fuel cell vehicle will become mainstream. We wanted to take the first step. We want to be at the leading edge.”  Toyota aims to sell 400 cars in Japan and 300 globally.

Toyota takes on fuel-cell cars

The new car is called Mirai and it is a sporty-looking four-door car. Like all fuel-cell vehicles, the Mirai will run on compressed hydrogen gas. Toyota’s new vehicle stores the two tanks underneath the vehicles. Although fossil fuels are used in hydrogen production and pressurizes it, these cars don’t emit exhaust. Toyota is not the only car maker testing out new fuel-cell cars, both Honda and Hyundai are working on similar cars. Yesterday, Honda introduced its first fuel concept car.

The uncertain future of fuel-cell cars

Deputy chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka admits he is uncertain about the future of these cars as it depends on whether car makers bring down the price and if there will be a wide-enough network of filling stations built. He believes it will take 10 to 20 years for it to reach sales to tens of thousands per year.

Tanaka added his company views it as a challenge, he says it is a risky move but if they don’t go on with the challenge. the overall number of filling stations will never grow. He explained, “It was a big challenge when we first introduced the Prius, or hybrid car, in 1997. And it’s an even bigger challenge this time because there is no infrastructure, and we’re trying to lead” the commercialization of fuel cell cars.”

Japan’s government will offer a 2 million yen subsidy to those who purchase the new vehicles.