If you feel a disturbance in the Intertubes today, that would be the fallout from the announcement of Ward’s 10 Best Engines List for 2015. For the first time since Ward’s Automotive Reports began the annual list in 1995, a fuel cell engine has made the cut. That would be the one humming away inside the 2015 Hyundai Tucson fuel cell EV.
We were just talking about the Tucson fuel cell EV last month, when Hyundai issued a point-by-point response to a series of questions about fuel cell EVs posed by the car experts at Edmunds. The Ward’s 10 Best Engines List doesn’t particularly settle any of those questions, but the editors at WardsAuto.com sure had some interesting thing to say about the fuel cell EV experience.
The Fuel Cell EV Experience
To qualify for the 10 Best Engines List, the powertrain has to be new or improved, and it has to beat out anything on the previous year’s list.
Rather than zeroing in on the details of the technology, the 10 Best Engines List reflects the driving experience of eight WardsAuto editors in metro area Detroit during the chilly months of October and November, as they go about their normal commute and other business.
The cars are rated in these areas:
…horsepower, torque, drivability, noise mitigation, flexibility, observed fuel economy and onboard technology.
As far as the Hyundai Tucson goes, the editors seemed most impressed by just how normal the fuel cell EV experience is. Here’s their take on Hyundai’s “stunning job:”
The 5-passenger Tucson FCV is powerful, quiet and, in a good way, completely ordinary. Pop the hood, and the fuel-cell stack even looks like a combustion engine. It’s as if this CUV was delivered from another galaxy by ingenious extraterrestrials who know how to make an Earthling feel right at home behind the wheel.
If you go over to your dealership and pop the hood, you might not quite agree that the fuel cell stack resembles a combustion engine, but then again looks aren’t everything.
Weird. Our Cars Are Getting More Diverse, Too
Notably, six other electric vehicles also made the Ten Best list along with three gasmobiles. That intensifies a trend toward diversity that the editors have been taking note of for the past several years.
For the group of seven EVs, the WardsAuto editors took note of some issues with the current state of affairs. They observed some shortcomings in cold-weather performance and range for battery EVs, and the current lack of hydrogen fueling stations for fuel cell EVs.
However, overall the editors are convinced that gasmobiles will inevitably cede market share to EVs, with fuel cell EVs eventually gaining a foothold, too. Here’s their rundown of the 10 Best Engines nominee pool:
Each year’s assemblage of grunty V-8s, silky V-6s, punchy welterweight 4-cyl. turbos, fuel-sipping hybrids and zero-emission electric vehicles left us convinced the powertrain world was becoming a United Nations summit with no dominant superpower.
This year, we really mean it.
If you check down the 10 Best list you might be surprised that Tesla didn’t make the cut, but keep in mind that the 10 Best list has a price ceiling and there’s part (or possibly all) of your answer.
Support Your Local EV
The Ward’s list still leaves a lot of ground to cover in the fuel cell EV versus battery EV conversation, but for the record let’s note that until recent memory the opportunities to charge an EV battery were few and far between.
Opening up and accelerating those opportunities has been accomplished with a lot of government elbow grease, from foundational research to stakeholder engagement initiatives like the Workplace Charging Challenge.
Fuel cell EVs have some catching up to do in terms of fuel availability, but you’re seeing a similar strategy at work in California, where a combination of clean air regulations and supportive programs have encouraged Honda, for one, to invest millions in a new fuel cell infrastructure for the state.
The effort has also pulled in a 60-year-old petroleum retailer named Ramos Oil, which appears to be positioning itself to transition into a more diverse fuel future.
Just yesterday, Ramos announced a partnership with industrial gas giant Linde North America to offer up hydrogen fuel at its Sacramento facility, which is powered entirely by a solar array according to the company.
Speaking of solar panels, technology is emerging to manufacture hydrogen using solar energy, but currently the main source of hydrogen is fossil natural gas. For that reason we generally give fuel cell EVs the same stinkeye we’d give to a battery EV that charges up from a coal or oil-fueled grid.
Now that the auto industry is eyeballing the connection between battery EV ownership and rooftop solar panels, it’s only a matter of time before solar-powered home hydrogen production elbows its way into the market.
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