For as long as we can remember, electric car advocates have fought hard to shake off the inaccurate stereotype of an electric car as being slow, dull and boring. Thanks to cars like the Tesla Model S — not to mention drag racing custom builds like White Zombie or Flux Capacitor — those stereotypes hold very little power today.
Consequently, save for some seriously fast quarter miles or another drop from Tesla in its vehicular 0-60 times, we tend not to fixate on the speed of electric cars all that much. We’ve got used to the idea that electric cars — be they powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells — can be just as fast as their internal combustion engined counterparts.
So when a news release from South Korean automaker Hyundai popped into our inbox this morning announcing the Hyundai Tucson FCV hydrogen fuel cell SUV had just set a new world land speed record, we clicked on it excitedly. While electric hydrogen fuel cell cars are still in their infancy, we’d presumed advances in motor technology in the world of battery electric cars would translate to a similarly impressive hydrogen fuel cell speed record, perhaps breaking into the kind of speeds normally only seen on the German Autobahn.
Upon reading the email however, our expectations were severely dashed.
That’s because the record speed achieved by a production Hyundai Tucson FCV on the salt flats of Soggy Dry Lake in California was 94.6 miles per hour. A speed that some (if not all) production battery electric cars can manage with relative ease.
Given the rather pedestrian speed record for a production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, we’re guessing Hyundai’s claim to the title won’t stand for long, especially when you consider that the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan has a claimed top speed of 111 mph. Honda’s soon-to-launch Clarity FCV will also likely have a faster top speed than Hyundai’s hydrogen crossover.
It’s worth noting too that both Honda and Toyota have in the past taken a much more agressive attitude towards speed trails, either building their own highly-tuned versions of their production Insight and Prius hybrids or supporting a third-party eager to set a new record. In most cases, these vehicles are capable of far higher speeds than the production vehicles they are based upon, even if there are some inherent stability issues as a consequence of exceeding their maximum designed speed.
Of course, the real purpose of Hyundai’s record attempt — and the video which accompanied the press release — wasn’t to set an unbelievably fast hydrogen fuel cell record. It was to highlight water being the only tailpipe emissions from the Tucson FCV, as well as its load-carrying and refuelling capabilities.
But just like the flawed logic of doing a long-distance trip in a limited-range electric car in the early days of plug-in vehicles, this particular piece of publicity could easily backfire on Hyundai, especially given the car’s rather mediocre 9-second 0-60 mph time.
As for records? There have been plenty of other hydrogen fuel cell vehicles capable of a much more impressive top speed, most noticiably the Buckeye Bullet 2, which set an impressive 302.877 mph record over a flying mile in 2009.
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