Hyundai unveiled its latest hydrogen-powered vehicle with the Nexo SUV this week, which has an 800-kilometre range courtesy of three hydrogen tanks that take just five minutes to refill – a significant advantage over pure battery electric vehicles.
Speaking to the media at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today, the company’s vice chairman of research and development, Yang Woong-Chul, said that Hyundai is strongly committed to eco-friendly vehicles but that hydrogen “is the one for the future".
“Hydrogen is the ultimate solution. With renewable energy, we can create the hydrogen,” Woong-Chul said.
Even so, given the lack of a comprehensive recharging infrastructure around the world (there is currently just one fixed hydrogen charging station in Australia at Hyundai’s Sydney headquarters and one mobile charging station owned by Toyota Australia), Woong-Chul admits it will take some time for hydrogen vehicles like the Nexo to gain popularity.
“It cannot be a very popular vehicle, but it has a mission, that fuel cell hydrogen can be the ultimate vehicle. We have some missions for that, we do our best to really promote this and we are successful," he said.
Hyundai, in collaboration with Toyota, has formed the global hydrogen council which aims to promote and encourage other companies to participate in the deployment of hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure globally.
“Oil companies like Shell and Total are part of this council. They don’t want to be just oil companies, they want to be energy companies. Any kind of energy, they want to be involved, and hydrogen they are going for."
According to Woong-Chul, the biggest issue plaguing hydrogen vehicles was that the product wasn’t good enough to justify the huge expenditure on infrastructure, but now that side of the equation has been fulfilled.
“Several years ago in hydrogen society they would say it’s a chicken-and-egg game: if the infrastructure is ready, the car is not ready (and vice versa). They just blame each other, but now we have proved, Hyundai and with the Toyota Mirai, we proved that fuel cell vehicles can fully perform in competition with internal combustion engine performance.
“Infrastructure people say no more chicken-and-egg. Automotive companies go further ahead on this than the infrastructure and energy companies and governments. We have done that kind of role.”
The Hyundai Nexo will be available in Australia from late 2018, with the federal government the first customer, taking 20 orders in the ACT as part of a trial. It remains to be seen when and if the vehicle will go on sale to the general public, given the lack of charging stations.
CarAdvice understands that it costs over a million dollars to install a single hydrogen charging station, but that existing petrol stations would be interested in the idea once the potential for vehicle sales becomes more apparent.
Despite Woong-Chul's claims, the company’s senior vice president of eco friendly vehicle R&D centre, Lee Ki-sang, told CarAdvice that hydrogen and pure electric vehicles can coexist in the future, going further to admit that Hyundai is actually spending twice as much on R&D for pure electric vehicles than it does on hydrogen, despite the latter being a far more complicated system.
“The two different technologies can coexist. For example, very long distance vehicles, SUVs or commercial vehicles – hydrogen is much more beneficial, city vehicles for 100-200km, an electric vehicle is more beneficial than hydrogen,” Kis-ang said.
“[Hydrogen’s] technological level is much more difficult and complicated than pure EV… Now our R&D investment capital in EV is around two times more than hydrogen.”
It appears as though Hyundai is betting in both directions, in the hope that it will come out on top regardless.