Last week, South Korean automaker Hyundai imported its first Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tucson CUV vehicles into California. In a few weeks’ time, those same vehicles will be delivered to carefully selected lease holders within the state as part of a limited-run hydrogen fuel cell test fleet program.
At $499 per month for 36 months — including unlimited fuelling at any one of ten public hydrogen refuelling stations within the state of California — Hyundai’s Tucson FCV beats Toyota’s promised ‘affordable’ 2015 FCV sedan to the market, but says Hyundai, the launch of the Tucson FCV isn’t about being first to market.
It’s about playing the compliance car game.
Under Californian law, specifically the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, automakers wanting to sell cars within the state must produce a specific percentage of zero emission vehicles. The more conventionally-fuelled vehicles sold, the more ZEVs are needed.
Under the regulation, the Californian Air Resources Board awards a certain number of credits to each automaker for every zero emission car they make. It can be powered by electricity or other alternative fuels like hydrogen fuel cells, but the credits awarded to the automaker do the same thing: they let the automaker sell a certain number of conventionally-fuelled vehicles.
What’s more, depending on type of ZEV, the number of credits awarded can vary. For Hyundai, making just 100 Hydrogen FCV Tucsons available in California equates to earning an estimated $130,000 worth of ZEV credits.
Essentially, the credits produced by leasing just 100 Hydrogen FCV Tuscons is all Hyundai needs to comply with the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate. And if it wants to, Hyundai can sell those credits to other automakers who are unlikely to meet ZEV mandates on their own.
“So just by selling the fuel cell (vehicle) we could get a lot of credit points, which you could sell at a later time if you want, likedoes,” Byung Ki Ahn, director-fuel cell group for “It could be a good business model.”
But said Ahn, despite earning money from the credits, Hyundai would still lose money on each and every FCV it sold…at least for now. And it has no plans to sell its ZEV credits to rival automakers for cold, hard cash.
Which raises the simple question: why hydrogen fuel cell cars with just ten refuelling stations in the whole of California versus more mainstream, more readily refillable electric cars? To find the answer, we have to look at the number of credits awarded to each vehicle.
In short, CARB rewards hydrogen fuel cell vehicle production with more credits per vehicle than electric or plug-in vehicles. At 26 credits per FCV vehicle, Hyundai can earn more than twice the number of credits for producing a hydrogen fuel cell car than it can with an electric car.
Despite losing money on each vehicle, Hyundai will then use those accumulated credits to let it continue to produce its current line up of vehicles, including its larger luxury models with poor fuel economy.
Like Toyota, Honda and Fiat then, Hyundai’s zero emission vehicles are simply a solution to a regulatory problem. And like all compliance cars, Hyundai will only make as many as it needs to.
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