Hyundai’s global boss says the power demands of a fully-autonomous vehicle will require a great deal of processing power that today’s pure electric vehicles may find more difficult to provide.
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Speaking to CarAdvice at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, Hyundai’s global vice chairman, Chung Eui-sun, said his company’s investment in hydrogen technology is with a long-term view that also encompasses the benefits it brings to level four and five autonomous driving.

According to Eui-sun, Hyundai and Kia cars with level four and five autonomous driving capabilities are likely to transfer around 200-300 terabytes of data for onboard processing, which would require serious power for the computers.

“We need that kind of energy so [pure] electric vehicle battery is not enough for that, so maybe fuel cell can cover that amount of data processing. That’s why we are focusing on this,” Eui-sun said.

Hyundai is forecasting that its level four (and beyond) autonomous technology will be commercially viable by around 2025, with the vice-chairman admitting that electric vehicles of all kinds and their autonomous capabilities are still decades away from mass scale adoption.

“The demand is not increasing rapidly, maybe in the future, maybe in 20 years. EV and fuel cell EV portion is going to increase together [then], but when we have level 4 around 2025, then at that time we need more fuel cell, to process the huge data and energy we need in the car.”

Hyundai is betting on both fuel cell electric and pure battery-powered electric vehicles, with the company claiming that there is a place for both technologies in the long term.

“It’s not which one is winning or losing, the battery on the vehicle has certain limits in range, so it’s going to [for example] use that kind of 200-kilometre range in the city… but for a longer drive and heavier cars, buses, trucks, it’s a lot better for fuel cell [hydrogen].

“Fuel cell can cover up to 800-1000km, but even solid-state [batteries] cannot catch it quickly, so we can use both. It’s a future investment, we have to [do both] EV and fuel cell EV for autonomous driving cars.”

The company is currently spending roughly twice as much in research and development for pure electric vehicles as it is for hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The Hyundai Nexo, which launched at CES, is the latest in the Korean brand’s viable hydrogen technology. It remains to be seen whether the availability of more hydrogen-powered vehicles will entice the build-up of refuelling infrastructure, which is lacking in most major markets.