The South Korean automaker is betting that fuel-cell electric vehicles will be a more realistic future auto technology than pure battery electric cars.
FCEVs, in Hyundai’s estimation, present a more likely future scenario than battery electric cars like Nissan’s (TYO: 7201) Leaf.
Cars of this latter variety have faced problems due to high battery expense, long charge times, inconvenient ranges, and sparse charging infrastructure. Just this week, Toyota (NYSE: TM) held off on moving further ahead with its all-electric eQ minicar.
Hyundai Motor Co (KRX: 005380) has decided to bypass battery-powered electric cars and instead will roll out the world’s first production fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV). The car will be revealed this week at the Paris auto show.
Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, thus generating power to drive electric motors. On one power-up, vehicles using fuel cells can run up to five times longer than battery-powered electric cars, and the tank is refilled with hydrogen in the same time a standard car can be filled with gas (compared with an average of 8 hours for battery charging).
Hyundai will offer 1,000 FCEVs based on the Tucson crossover in Europe, beginning December of this year through 2015, with the aim of reducing production costs by more than half to reach $44,700. Initial sticker price may be as high as $88,000, which is pretty impressive considering Hyundai broke into the market with cheaper, feature-rich offerings.
Of course, despite the obvious benefits of FCEVs, high production costs and a lack of refueling infrastructure need to be overcome first.
“We aim to reduce prices of fuel-cell vehicles to match battery cars by 2020-25,” Lim Tae-won, the director in charge of fuel-cell research at Hyundai and its affiliate Kia Motors , told Reuters ahead of the Paris auto show.
FCEVs could have a bright future in Europe, but much depends on public awareness and acceptance of the technology, government support, and a good refueling network.
Today, battery-powered cars can avail of any power socket. However, there’s only one hydrogen filling station in the entire Rhein-Main region around Frankfurt, which is Europe’s financial hub—and it’s been defunct for weeks.
Although it costs more to develop hydrogen refueling infrastructure than a unit for battery charging, each hydrogen station can process more cars and do it faster.
In Germany, industrial gases producer Linde (ETR: LIN) has invested tens of millions of euros with Daimler (ETR: DAI) to develop 20 hydrogen fueling stations by 2015, expanding on the current 7. The ultimate objective is to reduce costs to bring them in line with conventional natural gas fueling stations, which is around 300,000 euros ($387,500).
The Hyundai offering will have a range of 365 miles on one full charge, compared to the Nissan Leaf’s range of 73 miles on a single charge. So far, Daimler and Honda have released small numbers of their own FCEVs. By 2015, Hyundai hopes to have the capacity to build 10,000 FCEVs, rising to 100,000 in 2020.