Hyundai is no stranger to hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles having worked on the technology for years and offering the first hydrogen-powered vehicle for public sale in South Korea and Europe with the previous-generation ix35 FCEV.
At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Hyundai's Vice President for Research and Development, Woong Chul Yang, told Australian media he believes hydrogen is the "ultimate solution."
At this year’s CES Hyundai revealed its first dedicated hydrogen model, the Nexo SUV, which unlike previous fuel cell electric vehicles isn’t based on an existing Hyundai model.
"This is the ultimate eco-friendly vehicle and we are very much committed to this technology. This is the one for the future. This is the ultimate solution," he said.
The Nexo will spearhead Hyundai's plans to introduce 18 environmentally-friendly vehicles by 2025, including more fuel-cell models as well as fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
The five-seat SUV can travel for up to 600km between refills - 170km more than the ix35 FCEV - while producing more power, up to 135kW from its combined battery and fuel-cell stack, and offering greater acceleration than its predecessor with the ability to accelerate from 0-100km in 9.5 seconds - around the same time as a regular family SUV.
It will be available in selected markets by the end of the year, with 20 versions already confirmed to arrive in Australia as part of a sustainable energy project with the CSIRO in Canberra.
Hyundai Australia says it has received additional interest from other local government departments, as well as private enterprises and even a handful of private customers, about introducing the Nexo.
Along with its hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain, which converts hydrogen gas to electricity creating water vapour as its only ‘tailpipe’ emission, the car also comes with a range of advanced autonomous driving functions that are likely to filter into Hyundai's mainstream models over the next few years.
Among the Nexo’s new systems are a blind-spot monitor that displays vision of the adjacent lane on the central screen when changing lanes, as well as the latest in lane-keeping assistance and hands-free highway driving systems.
Yang describes the Nexo as matching the performance and driving range of conventional petrol and diesel-powered SUVs, proving the technology is a viable solution for the future.
But he concedes that its popularity will still be limited by its cost, restricted production numbers, and a current lack of refuelling infrastructure.
However, Hyundai admits the Nexo is still designed to be a mobile advert for hydrogen saying "It cannot be very popular but it has a mission to showcase that hydrogen is the ultimate solution."
"Fuel Cell Vehicles have proved they are the ultimate vehicles. They have proved they have the performance and there is a lot of confidence in this now," he said.
"Among the hydrogen society a few years ago there was a chicken and egg game; we were just blaming each other - the infrastructure wasn't ready or the car wasn't ready. Now we have proved - Hyundai along with Toyota - a fuel cell vehicle can fully perform like an internal combustion engine with comparable performance.
"With that, they see the price of fuel cell vehicles can drop dramatically as the popularity grows.
"Even the infrastructure [community] say now there is no more chicken and egg game."
Hyundai isn’t alone in championing the use of hydrogen as a viable future energy source, having joined forces with Toyota, which produces the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, and fuel suppliers including Shell and Total, to form the Hydrogen Council to promote it benefits and encourage governments to invest in infrastructure around the world.
Yang said Hyundai is not in competition with Toyota during this early phase of fuel cell development, but rather the two companies will work cooperatively to promote hydrogen fuel cell cars.
"We are not competing with Toyota and the Mirai - we are working together with Toyota," he said.
"At this stage, it is about promoting the benefits of the hydrogen vehicles and we have to work together. Once we get popular then we can compete.
"Somebody has to pioneer this technology, and we are doing this now."
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