Hydrogen Tucson drives a new era

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Hydrogen Tucson drives a new era

Hyundai Motor is moving quickly to take the lead in the hydrogen car market with its announcement that it will be the first automaker to make the vehicles available to the general public, starting next spring in Southern California.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show, Hyundai said a leasing program for its next-generation Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle (FCEV) will start at four area dealerships.

“Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicles represent the next generation of zero-emission vehicle technology, so we’re thrilled to be a leader in offering the mass-produced, federally certified Tucson Fuel Cell to retail customers,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. “The superior range and fast-fill refueling speed of our Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle contrast with the lower range and slow-charge characteristics of competing electric vehicles. We think fuel cell technology will increase the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits.”

Hyundai said its Tucson FCEV will initially be offered for $499 per month for 36 months, with a $2,999 down payment, including unlimited free hydrogen refueling.

“When we spoke to customers interested in driving a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, many wondered what the cost of hydrogen would be,” said Krafcik. “To ease those concerns as we build out the hydrogen refueling network, we thought that covering the cost for these early adopters in the monthly payment was the best approach, and consistent with other aspects of our Hyundai Assurance program.”

The Tucson FCEV is equipped with a 100-kilowatt fuel cell and two hydrogen storage tanks. Hyundai said Tucson FCEV mass production for the U.S. market will begin in February at its Ulsan plant, which also manufactures the gasoline version of the crossover utility vehicle. Producing the Tucson FCEV at the same plant allows the company to leverage both the high quality and cost efficiency of the Tucson platform, Hyundai said.

Hyundai started developing hydrogen vehicles in 1998 and unveiled its first one in 2000. Last year, it provided two hydrogen fuel-cell buses to Incheon International Airport as terminal shuttles to raise awareness of the technology.

Earlier this year, the company signed a deal to deliver 15 vehicles to the city of Copenhagen and two to Skone, Sweden.

Hyundai, however, is not the only automaker to target the FCEV market.

Also at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Honda unveiled its hydrogen-powered concept car. The Japanese automaker said it aims to introduce its FCEV in the United States and Japanese markets by 2015, followed by Europe.

At the Tokyo Auto Show, Toyota displayed its FCEV, which the company plans to sell by 2015 in Japan and 2016 in the United States. Toyota said it wants to keep the price of its FCEV between 5 million yen ($49,773) and 10 million yen, though it could go lower.

Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Daimler AG and other carmakers say they’re prepared for a slow expansion of the market for fuel-cell vehicles, as the number of hydrogen stations is still small and the cells and carbon-fiber fuel tanks are costly.

Automakers collectively have poured billions of dollars into fuel cells since the 1990s, spurred by hydrogen’s allure as an abundant, low-carbon fuel. Critics, such as Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, deride it as too complex, too costly and not clean enough, since most hydrogen is generated from natural gas.

Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn also said at the Tokyo Motor Show that consumers won’t take to fuel-cell vehicles before the decade’s end, joining Musk in questioning the future of hydrogen-powered cars.

Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and others argue that it’s a game changer: petroleum-like performance with zero tailpipe emissions, avoiding the size, range and refueling-time issues of battery-electric autos. The Tucson FCEV can be refueled in a few minutes and has range of about 300 miles (483 kilometers), Mike O’Brien, Hyundai’s U.S. vice president for product planning, told Bloomberg.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been used in spacecraft since the 1960s. They generate electricity and emit only water vapor. For mass-market appeal, carmakers are competing to cut the cost of the cell stacks, which use expensive precious metals, and the high-pressure carbon-fiber fuel tanks.

“There’s a sense that no one company owns this technology yet,” O’Brien said. “In that sense, it’s kind of a jump ball.”

BY JOO KYUNG-DON, BLOOMBERG [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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