Hydrogen, not Botox or movie openings, is the talk of LA this week. Hyundai says it will begin selling a hydrogen-powered Tucson compact SUV in 2014. It’s one of several auto show announcements this week in Los Angeles and Tokyo about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being readied for production. Hyundai says this will be the first mass-market hydrogen vehicle available in the US.
The hydrogen Hyundai Tucson is one of the highlights of the 2013 Los Angeles International Show, with press days Wednesday and Thursday. Hyundai sees a big future for hydrogen-powered vehicles because volume production might push down the cost of hydrogen fuel technology down faster than with the lithium-ion battery technology necessary for EVs and plug-in hybrids.
The main stumbling block for hydrogen remains the lack of fueling stations. Compared to the rest of the US, California is awash in stations: nine currently with more on the way. Still, that’s only one hydrogen station for every thousand gas stations.
The fuel cell combines pressurized, gaseous hydrogen with oxygen in the air to produce electricity that powers electric motors and move the vehicle. Water is the only emission. Hyundai says it believes the hydrogen cell should withstand any foreseeable auto accident. Should hydrogen leak out, it rises quickly, where liquid fuels such as gas and diesel puddle on the ground.
At a media event last week in Michigan at a Hyundai R&D facility, Hyundai North America CEO John Krafcik told reporters that a hydrogen fuel cell “brings together the best features of [gasoline engines and] battery electric vehicles.” Krafcik also touted the “great range” of hydrogen vehicles. Range in the new generation of hydrogen vehicles could be 300 miles versus the 75-100 miles for most EVs, or 200-250 miles for Teslas.
At a separate Hyundai media event in South Korea last week, Hyundai Motor Group’s R&D president, Kwon Moon-sik, said the future holds only limited economies of scale for lithium-ion batteries beyond what has been achieved. In other words, Hyundai doesn’t believe the price of Li-ion will be halved anytime soon. Separately, Toyota described a Moore’s Law price curve for hydrogen-powered vehicles: $ 1 million to produce a hydrogen vehicle circa 2007, $ 50,000 in 2015, $ 25,000 in 2020.
Automakers with active hydrogen-vehicle plans include Honda/Acura, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford/Lincoln, General Motors, Honda/Acura, Nissan/Infiniti, and Toyota/Lexus. Some automakers will work in joint ventures to refine the fuel cell technology, including GM and Honda and then a team made up of Daimler, Ford and Nissan.
Next page: The (near) future of fuel cells…
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