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After more than a decade in development, the hydrogen-powered Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell will launch in the US in the first quarter 2014 with a unprecedented free fuel offer.

Speaking at the Los Angeles auto show, Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik announced the ix35 Fuel Cell (Tucson in the US) would be available as a lease-only vehicle in southern California for a down payment of $2999 and $499 per month for 36 months, including free hydrogen fuel for the length of the lease.

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“The fuel is included, if you are a high-mileage driver, it will be a very enticing proposition,” Krafcik said.

“Not only that. If service is required, a Hyundai dealer will pick up the car, provide a loaner, then return the car after service to the customer’s home or business – all at no charge.”

The Tucson Fuel Cell will also qualify for California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate of $2500, which effectively means five of the monthly payments over the year will be paid for by the state.

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Initially, it will be available at three dealers from March before expanding to other areas as more hydrogen refuelling stations come online.

Hyundai says it will build only 1000 fuel cell ix35s through to 2016, with California to be the only market in the US for the vehicle.

While Krafcik also said that Hyundai would continue to support both battery-powered electric vehicles and those fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells, the Korean-based manufacturer is clearly backing the latter.

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“Battery electric vehicles take too long to charge, up to 24 hours or more for a full charge on some vehicles. Hydrogen gives up to 500km of range and takes around 10 minutes to fill.

“The industry is spending hundreds of millions on the development of fuel cells because they make sense,” he added.

The fuel cell ix35 (already for sale in Europe) is something of a coup for Hyundai in the United States, as it arrives before similar vehicles from Chrysler Group, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

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Honda also took the wraps off its FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) Concept at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show, previewing the company’s next-generation hydrogen-powered vehicle, which will go on sale in 2015.

Meanwhile, Toyota revealed its fuel cell contender, the FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle), in Tokyo this week, which is expected to go on sale around the same time as the Honda.

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