This story about an upcoming fuel cell–powered SUV from Hyundai was first published on Gas2.
Hyundai introduced what will be its next fuel cell–powered car at an event in Seoul this week. Based on the FE Concept it brought to Geneva earlier this year, the as yet unnamed new model will go on sale in Korea early in 2018, followed by sales in the US and Europe shortly thereafter.
The big news is that the fourth-generation fuel cell for the new car is more powerful, more efficient, and has longer range than the unit used in the current Tucson FCEV, known in other markets as the ix35. Efficiency of the fuel cell is now 60% — up from 55% in the Tucson. Range is up to 800 kilometers or 500 miles, according to a Hyundai press release sent our way. That’s using the New European Driving Cycle, so knock that back to about 400 miles by the time an EPA sticker goes on the window.
The new fuel cell configuration is more powerful as well. It is rated at 161 horsepower — 20% more than the Tucson FCEV. It also has been tweaked to improve low temperature operation. It now performs well at temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius (-22°F). The system was tested for its cold weather performance prowess in the Snow Mountains in Australia as part of the company’s global assessment and durability program.
Hyundai is enthusiastic about the styling of the new car, touting its smooth, flowing flanks, which it says evoke the flow of water — which is the only byproduct emitted by its fuel cell. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but the Concept that appeared in Geneva is far more attractive than the car the press saw in Seoul.
In particular, the Concept featured smooth front end styling that resembles the grille-less look pioneered by Tesla. The prototype has an enormous toothy grille that looks like a nuclear-powered cheesegrater. Automakers seem convinced customers want cars that look like they can chew up and spit out any cars that dare get in their way. Maybe that’s true. Styling gets intensively test marketed. But the clean Tesla front-end treatment seems more appropriate for a car whose main feature is that is does not have an internal combustion engine.
Hyundai is busy filling as many holes in its product lineup as possible. It’s conventional cars are world class in terms of styling and owner satisfaction. Its hybrid offerings are world class as well, with the new Ioniq Hybrid being the EPA’s MPGe champion. It is pushing forward aggressively with plug-in hybrid technology and has plans for a pure battery-electric chassis in the works.
Fuel cells are appealing … on the surface. What could be more eco-friendly than a power source that creates no waste products other than water vapor and heat? Unfortunately, hydrogen overwhelmingly comes from natural gas, which is not so green. Getting the hydrogen, transporting it, and building hydrogen refueling stations that are frighteningly expensive produces another problem. Also, as this photo reveals, the fuel cell powertrain is bulky. Compared to a battery-electric powertrain, which leaves room for extra storage capacity in the “frunk,” an FCEV still needs a full engine compartment and large storage tanks.
In the contest between hydrogen-powered cars and electric cars, it appears electrics are the clear winner … but Hyundai will be ready for the hydrogen economy if it ever arrives.
Top photo via New Atlas