Both companies are planning hydrogen FCEV crossovers by 2020, to sell alongside battery electric vehicles in their 'green' arsenals.

Audi AG and Hyundai Motor, both major proponents of fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology alongside the likes of Toyota and Mercedes-Benz, have formed an alliance to get affordable systems to market sooner.

Reading between the lines, Audi will develop its own FCEV crossover using components from the Hyundai Nexo (driven here) as a tangible starting point for the alliance.

FCEVs are billed as an alternative to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), though it’s not a zero-sum game. They generate their own power, commonly from hydrogen, rather than BEVs that simply store and harness electricity zapped in via a powerpoint/charging station.

The proposed cross-licensing agreement would see the pair share patents and grant access to key FCEV components of their respective choosing, improving their R&D yield and cutting delivery costs through economies of scale, often billed as the great panacea.

Once each company is selling hundreds of thousands of hydrogen FCEVs, the technology will become a money-maker. Not before.

Affiliates are covered in the deal, meaning Kia Motors as well as Audi’s parent company Volkswagen AG, looping in the likes of Skoda, Porsche and the rest. The duration of the agreement has not been disclosed, but it’ll have to last years.

As you may recall, General Motors (GM) and Honda announced a joint venture into the production of a new hydrogen fuel-cell system to feature in upcoming models from both companies, early last year.

We’ve also seen companies pair up to develop BEVs and co-fund charging infrastructure, so the shift to a greener auto-scape is clearly one of shared costs and collaboration.

As a first step, Hyundai will grant Audi access to parts developed for the ix35 Fuel Cell and Nexo - both of which store compressed hydrogen on board, combine it with atmospheric oxygen, and create useable electricity while emitting only water.

The benefits of these systems are long driving ranges and short filling times. Rather than spending hours charging batteries, you spend five minutes at a compressed hydrogen pump refilling your tanks. But unlike an internal combustion car, there are zero CO2 emissions from the onboard chemical reaction driving the wheels.

While BEV systems are widely seen as suitable for most commuters, provided they have 400-500km in range, FCEVs are billed as a better solution for trucks and buses that cannot be subject to charging downtime, and even some high-use large cars in which the bulky system can be packaged.

Hyundai Motor Company, which bills itself as the world’s first mass-producer of fuel cell vehicles, has been offering FCEV SUVs since 2013, and currently sells them in 18 countries. It’s also rolling out thousands of hydrogen FCEV buses for its domestic market.

Meanwhile Audi has been working on fuel cell concepts for almost 20 years, examples being the A2H2 (2004), Q5 HFC (2008), Audi A7 h-tron (2007) and h-tron quattro concept (2016). It plans to launch a production FCEV crossover vehicle in 2020, which will potentially share a lot with Hyundai’s conceptually similar Nexo.

“This agreement is another example of Hyundai’s strong commitment to creating a more sustainable future whilst enhancing consumers’ lives with hydrogen-powered vehicles, the fastest way to a truly zero-emission world,” said HMC vice chairman Euisun Chung.

“We are confident that the Hyundai Motor Group-Audi partnership will successfully demonstrate the vision and benefits of FCEVs to the global society.”

Meantime, Audi AG board member for technical development Peter Mertens said: “The fuel cell is the most systematic form of electric driving and thus a potent asset in our technology portfolio for the emission-free premium mobility of the future”.

“On our FCEV roadmap, we are joining forces with strong partners such as Hyundai. For the breakthrough of this sustainable technology, cooperation is the smart way to leading innovations with attractive cost structures.”