Hyundai is betting heavily on the world’s lightest gas – with U.S. sales of its new hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle – a modified version of the ix35 crossover – set to begin in the U.S. early next year.
Sometimes described as “refillable batteries,” fuel cells produce nothing but water vapor in their exhaust and are one of only a handful of ways to meet the stringent zero-emission vehicle, or ZEV, requirements set for California and other parts of the world.
Still, hydrogen power has its own drawbacks, including the lack of a refueling infrastructure that experts warn could take years – and cost billions of dollars – to overcome.
“We are studying the market to see which will work better,” says Moon-Sik Kwan, president of Hyundai Motor Group’s R&D Division, noting that while Hyundai is focusing on hydrogen, its South Korean partner Kia is preparing a battery-electric version of its little Soul crossover.
Fuel cells gained proponents within the auto industry during the 1990s, only to see the spotlight shift to battery power in the new millennium. But now, as the range and cost limits of lithium-ion technology becomes increasingly apparent, fuel cells have again gained a following.
Hyundai plans to beat Toyota and Honda (who are readying their own hydrogen cars) to the market as it is already providing a limited test fleet to government buyers in Denmark and other parts of Europe. And the Korean carmaker will expand the program when the first of its fuel-cell models reached U.S. showrooms in early 2014, notes Dr. Kwan.
Still, several factors would limit the demand – among them being chief the price: the hydrogen model is currently being sold in Europe for about $150,000. By the time it reaches the U.S., the goal is to trim that to somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Dr. Kwan, though the final figure has yet to be set.
And there are currently few locations where hydrogen is available, and asked if Hyundai might set up hydrogen fueling stations, much as Tesla Motors is setting up a “Supercharger” battery charging network across the U.S., Dr. Kwan says, “No. Only governments could do this.”
Indeed, several European governments have committed to doing so, notably Germany which has plans to set up a nationwide network of alternative power stations where motorists could both charge up their battery cars and access hydrogen fueling pumps.
California has also approved funding for a hydrogen program that will soon establish around a dozen pumps in the Greater Los Angeles area and perhaps 100 or more stations across the state in the years to follow.
) - Thursday, October 24th, 2013 - filed under Hyundai
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