Hyundai pins its hopes on hydrogen

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Hyundai pins its hopes on hydrogen

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Hyundai Motor’s Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle displayed outside the Hyundai Motor America headquarters in Fountain Valley, California, in February 2014. [Bloomberg]

What prompted Hyundai and Kia to spend so much money on their new center in Gwangju, part of the government’s creative economy initiative?

Hyundai and Kia want to make the Gwangju center a testing ground for their hydrogen fuel-cell technologies.

Japanese automaker Toyota unveiled its fuel-cell vehicle, the Mirai, at the North American International Auto Show held in Detroit on Jan. 12. It was the first time Toyota introduced the eco-friendly car in the North American market.

At the show, Toyota described the Mirai, meaning future in Japanese, as “the world’s first mass-produced fuel-cell car that has mileage of up to 650 kilometers on one charge.”

Hyundai Motor became the world’s first automaker to commercialize a fuel-cell car in April last year with the introduction of the fuel-cell version of its popular Tucson ix.

Toyota introduced the Mirai as the world’s first de facto fuel-cell model because Hyundai’s Tucson ix Fuel Cell has only sold 26 units.

Toyota commercialized the Mirai in the Japanese market at the end of last year, and has already had sales of about 1,500 units.

With larger-than-expected success, the Japanese automaker decided to raise its production goal up to 3,000 units in 2017, from its previous annual production goal of 700 units.

In the wake of Toyota’s remarks, Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun said the following day, “Hyundai Motor is the very first in the global auto market to deliver a fuel-cell car to drivers.”

The Tucson ix Fuel Cell drives up to 426 kilometers (264 miles) on a five-minute charge, emitting only water vapor as exhaust. The model is designed to generate power by combining oxygen and hydrogen inside the fuel cell instead of directly burning hydrogen.

Another Japanese automaker, Honda, also introduced its prototype fuel-cell car at the Detroit motor show. Honda’s FCV Concept runs up to 480 kilometers on a three- to five-minute charge.

Among industry analysts, Hyundai Motor won the competition.

The U.S.-based auto trade magazine Ward’s Auto picked the Tucson ix Fuel Cell over the Mirai, having written that Mirai had a louder noise level and smaller trunk space.

To make its Tucson ix Fuel Cell more attractive, Hyundai Motor is considering lowering its price to 120 million won ($111,000) from the current price of 150 million won. The Mirai is priced at 7.24 million yen, about 76 million won.

Many automakers in Japan and Germany are trying to catch up by taking aggressive moves in marketing and preparing legal and industrial infrastructures in their local markets.

The Japanese auto industry put Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the front of fuel-cell vehicle promotion. Abe became the world’s first owner of a Mirai sedan on Jan. 15.

The Japanese government is also pushing various policies to develop the fuel-cell industry. The government is working with private refinery JX Energy to install 100 hydrogen fueling station in the country’s major cities by the end of this year. It also set a goal to nurture hydrogen fuel cell as the nation’s next energy source by 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics takes place, and to open 1,000 fuel-cell charging stations by 2025.

The U.S. government has also announced it will invest $20 million every year toward this project for the next 10 years.

Korea is falling behind.

The Korean government allocated only 2 billion won this year to developing fuel-cell vehicles, lower than the 3.5 billion won budget last year.

BY LEE SOO-KI, KIM YOUNG-MIN AND KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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