[TOKYO] Toyota has been swamped by orders for its first mass market hydrogen fuel-cell car, the company said Thursday, with demand in the first month nearly four times higher than expected for the whole year.
The Japanese auto giant said it had received more than 1,500 orders for its "Mirai" sedan since its launch in mid-December. It had planned to sell 400 in Japan over 12 months.
Roughly 60 per cent of those orders are from government offices and corporate fleets, with the remaining 40 per cent from individual consumers, the company said in a statement.
Unexpectedly high demand for the environmentally friendly four-door car - which has a 6.7 million yen (US$56,900) price tag - means early buyers might have a bit of a wait.
"Due to the large volume of orders received, Toyota forecasts a significantly longer time to delivery than originally expected," the statement said.
Fuel-cell cars are seen as the Holy Grail of green cars as they are powered by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, which emits nothing more harmful than water from its exhaust.
But a limited driving range and lack of refuelling stations have hampered development of fuel-cells and their cousin, all-electric cars, which environmentalists say could play a vital role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming.
The Mirai can travel about 650 kilometres (400 miles) without refuelling, some three times further than an electric car, and its tank can be filled in a few minutes like gasoline engine vehicles, according to Toyota.
The car will hit the US and some European countries, including Britain, Germany and Denmark, this year, Toyota has said.
It hopes to sell more than 3,000 units by the end of 2017 in the United States, and up to 100 annually in Europe.
Japanese automakers, including Toyota's rivals Honda and Nissan, have been leaders in the green car sector.
This week, Honda unveiled the newest version of its FCV fuel-cell car at the Detroit auto show, with the vehicle set to hit the market next year.
Toyota has announced it is making thousands of patents for fuel cell vehicles royalty-free in an effort to encourage other automakers into the new industry.
News of the rapid success of the Mirai - which means "future" in Japanese - comes a week after the Tokyo metropolitan government announced the athlete's village for the 2020 Olympics would be a futuristic "hydrogen town".
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants all government departments to use fuel-cell cars, and pledged to cut red tape so it is easier to set up hydrogen re-fuelling stations.