Hyundai could bring a hydrogen car to the States in 2014 image

Hyundai is leaning towards the world’s lightest gas – with US sales of its new hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle – a modified version of the already available ix35 crossover – announced for early next year.

Sometimes seen as “refillable batteries,” fuel cells produce nothing but water vapor and are one of only two ways ways to meet the stringent zero-emission vehicle, or ZEV, rules set for California and other parts of the world.

Still, hydrogen power has its own problems, including the lack of a national wide 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 followers within the auto industry during the 1990s, only to see the spotlight stolen by battery power in the beginning of the new millennium. But now, as the range and cost limits of lithium-ion technology becomes obvious, fuel cells have again gained a following. Hyundai will limit for the time being the new model to California, mulling wider availability at a later date.