(Corrects to show that state of California, not Toyota, has pledged to fund building of filling stations in last paragraph)
By Alexandria Sage
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp’s (7203.T) hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are gaining traction in California, where 22 of the company’s Mirai cars have been delivered in its first month of availability, company officials said on Tuesday.
Toyota has ambitious plans to sell 30,000 fuel-cell vehicles globally by 2020, ramping up from an expected 2,000 next year. Fuel-cell vehicles are a key component of the company’s plans to curb polluting emissions to nearly zero by 2050.
Toyota will accelerate the ramp-up of plans to sell the Mirai in the United States, Bill Fay, U.S. general manager of the Toyota brand, said at a National Automobile Dealers Association-J.D. Power conference linked to the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Toyota sells the Mirai at eight California dealerships, and will expand to nearly 40 dealerships there and at a handful of stores in the U.S. Northeast by the end of 2016.
“We are at the ground floor of something that could be huge” Fay said.
The first Mirai was delivered to a California customer on Oct. 21.
Toyota has received more than 2,000 expressions of interest in the Mirai. The selling of these cars requires that hand-raisers be contacted to determine if they are eligible, including whether they are near a hydrogen filling station.
The Toyota executive said there is a “chicken-and-egg” situation of expanding fuel-cell vehicle sales and establishing a network of hydrogen filling stations.
Toyota works with two companies to expand hydrogen filling stations, FirstElement Fuel of California and Air Liquide (AIRP.PA) of France. On Tuesday, Air Liquide said it would buy U.S. peer Airgas ARG.N in a $13.4 billion deal.
Mirai launched in Japan last December and the company is taking orders in Europe as well as in California. Sales will expand next year to five U.S. states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese, is a four-person sedan that has a range of 300 miles. California has pledged $200 million to help build 100 filling stations over the next decade in the state.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles; editing by Bernard Orr