Hyundai not counting hydrogen out with future fuel cell concepts

Despite major battery electric vehicle moves, Hyundai Group’s ‘Hydrogen Wave’ future fuel cells preview suggests it hasn’t given up on fuel cell technology.

By Michael Bettencourt Wheels.ca

Sep 7, 2021 5 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

Join the Conversation (0)
With a host of impressive battery electric vehicles (BEVs) coming by the Hyundai Motor Group in the next 12 months – from the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis brands – plus a host of BEVs already on sale at Hyundai and Kia dealerships for many years now, the parent group clearly wanted to reinforce that it still hasn’t totally gone away from those other types of electric vehicles: the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).

Sure, Hyundai may have only leased a handful of Tucson FCEVs and later Nexo FCEVs in Canada from 2019, thanks to the near total lack of public hydrogen fueling infrastructure. In effect, up until now, fuel cell vehicles in Canada have been the technology of the mid-to long-term future since the late 1990s.

Judging from Hyundai’s latest sneak peek at a variety of fuel cell concept vehicles and technologies it unveiled early this week, that future appears to be coming closer. It may not be near-term yet, but Hyundai is underlining that it is investing in the hydrogen future that it believes will indeed arrive, one day.

At an event that unfortunately landed on the Labour Day holiday in North America, the Hyundai group called this event its “Hydrogen Wave.” Think of it as a fuel cell equivalent to Tesla’s battery day, and you’ll be close.

Hyundai hydrogen

One key difference is that Tesla was already a major seller of BEVs on its Battery Day, whereas Hyundai currently sells a relatively tiny number of Nexo FCEVs and commercial FCEV semi-trucks – even compared to its BEV sales, and much more so compared to its internal combustion engine vehicles.

This is not surprising, considering that globally, fuel cell makers produced 10,000-15,000 FCEVs around the world in the last year, versus four million to five million BEVs produced, the company estimated in its presentation.

From a consumer vehicle point of view, there’s relatively little to expect from Hyundai fuel cell vehicles near-term, especially if Canada’s hydrogen fueling infrastructure doesn’t improve beyond a public hydrogen fueling station in the province of Quebec, and fewer than five in fuel cell hotbed southern B.C., where industry powerhouse Ballard Power Systems lives on in Vancouver.

Hyundai has promised a third-generation of its fuel cell stack to be introduced to the market in 2023 in the successor to the Nexo, though judging by the timing of past fuel cell vehicles after their global launch, the earliest Canadians can realistically expect this FCEV successor to the Nexo will likely be 2024, again in very small numbers.

The fuel cell system itself will offer up to double the power of the current Nexo system, said the company, with outputs of roughly 100 kilowatts (134 hp) to 200kW (268 hp) available. Hyundai says the Nexo is the best-selling FCEV in the world, without specifying exact figures, while the commercial division launched the world’s first hydrogen semi last year, and now has 45 units on the road, it said.

Hyundai Hydrogen

This Nexo successor FCEV will be followed by a consumer fuel cell vehicle at a price point it aims to be comparable to an equivalent BEV by 2030, said Saehoon Kim, EVP and head of the Hyundai group’s Fuel Cell Center.

In contrast, it’s fairly clear the majority of these previewed technologies are aimed most widely in the commercial vehicle sectors, where Hyundai committed to offer fuel cells in all its commercial vehicle models by 2028. That’s because there’s more certainty for market viability for fuel cells on the commercial side, Kim conceded.

“At least for long haul commercial trucks, there is consensus that hydrogen and fuel cells will offer the best alternative to diesel powertrains,” said Kim.

The presentation showcased various autonomous vehicles and trucks, from semis running down the highway in tandem, to a logistics system where such commercial fuel cell vehicles could maneuver in tight spots, whether in urban areas or loading and unloading right at the ports.

Other commercial concepts included driver-less tractor-trailers with multiple fuel cell stacks located underneath the trailer body, mobile FCEV refueling stations, and a “Rescue Drone” vehicle that can bring along a flying drone to provide remote visualizations to help fire-fighting and life-saving operations to dangerous areas.

Hyundai Hydrogen

One potentially exciting consumer vehicle it unveiled was its Vision FK concept. Putting out more than 500 kilowatts (671 hp), the concept consists of a radically powered plug-in hybrid rear-wheel drive powertrain, with the fuel cell unit acting as “motor” to generate electricity, as well as grid-sourced electricity to help deliver the instant power to the wheels that impresses so much in powerful BEVs.

The Vision FK can accelerate from rest to 100 km/h in less than four seconds, plus would offer over 600 km of range from this unique fuel-cell plug-in electric hybrid, said the company.

The entire presentation was very different from most automotive presentations, as it wasn’t focusing on any particular vehicle or individual technology, but an entire hydrogen ecosystem, where it said hydrogen could be used at the grid level to help conserve and later transmit transient green electricity generation from wind and solar sources.

This is essentially taking the BEV versus FCEV consumer vehicle market scrap to the utility level, with hydrogen technologies versus large-scale battery storage grid-level services.

Hyundai Hydrogen

The Canadian government has committed to creating a hydrogen strategy across the country, launching a Hydrogen Strategy in late 2020, and a steering committee in April, in order to “unlock hydrogen’s full potential in 2050.” The goal of this hydrogen strategy is to maintain and advance Canada’s reputation as a fuel cell leader and hydrogen provider, a market it expects will reach almost $12 trillion by 2050.

Closer to now, however, the Hyundai group will showcase up to 18 vehicles or uses of its fuel cell and hydrogen technologies at a “Hydrogen Village” exhibition in Goyang, South Korea the rest of this week.

“This may be the last train to a hydrogen society and time is running out,” said Euisun Sung, chairman of the Hyundai Motor Group, during a media Q&A session after its fuel cell video presentation, complete with continuous digital water in the background to hammer home the hydrogen wave theme.

“The goal is to make hydrogen readily used for everyone, for everything, everywhere.”




More from Wheels & Partners