While Japanese automaker Toyota is keen to be known as the first automaker to bring a dedicated hydrogen fuel cell car to market in the form of its 2016 Toyota Mirai fuel cell sedan, it wasn’t the first automaker to bring a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to market.
That distinction goes to South-Korean automaker Hyundai, which has been quietly leasing and selling limited numbers of Hyundai Tucson fuel cell crossover SUVs around the world since early 2013. Based on Hyundai’s existing gasoline-powered SUV of the same name, the Tucson FCV (known as the iX FCV in some markets) offers an EPA-approved range of 265 miles per fill of its twin hydrogen fuel tanks (which hold a combined total of 5.64 kilograms of hydrogen at 10,00 psi).
As with any battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on an existing production internal combustion engine vehicle however, there are limitations to the Hyundai Tucson FCV’s design. For example, its fuel tanks are limited in size by the space available in the space under the rear seats and under the load bay floor, while other components have to be squeezed in ‘where they fit’ into the Tucson’s chassis rather than where is the best placement in terms of weight distribution or layout simplicity. Simply put, for a limited-volume model, while such conversions are more than suitable to test the marketplace, they’re generally not mass-market car material. Which is why Hyundai is readying its own dedicated hydrogen fuel cell vehicle for launch some time before 2020, says British magazine AutoCar.
In an article published yesterday, the British magazine cites an interview with Sae-Hoon Kim, Hyundai-Kia’s head of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research.
“We will launch a dedicated vehicle, although it is not clear what vehicle type it will be based around,” he said. “Developing a bespoke care offers clear advantages. For instance, the larger the radiators on a fuel cell car the better, and you can see on the [Toyota] Mirai that they have developed a cooling solution that helps with that scenario.”
Why the need for larger radiators? Unlike an electric car where the process of transferring chemical energy from the battery pack into electrical power to drive the motor is relatively energy-efficient, the process of converting hydrogen fuel into electricity is only about 40-60 percent efficient, with the remaining energy lost as heat during the highly exothermic 2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O chemical reaction taking place inside the fuel cell.
While some of that heat can be repurposed to power on-board heating systems, the remaining heat has to be safely dissipated, a process which requires large radiators. As a consequence, building a hydrogen fuel car based on an internal combustion engine vehicle means that the limitations of the car’s body shape and design means that only a certain size fuel cell stack can be safely used before heat dissipation becomes a problem.
That in turn minimizes the power output the car can produce, reducing performance and 0-60 times.
While Sae-Hoon Kim refused to be drawn on specifics, he did suggest that Hyundai would be looking at a target range of 500 miles per fill on the optimistic NEDC test cycle (nearer to 400 miles on the EPA test cycle) and a top speed of 110 mph. That’s an improvement on the 265 miles and top speed of 100 mph offered by the current Tucson FCV.
Increasing that range however does come with a challenge: it limits the amount of space for the cargo, something that Sae-Hoon Kim says is also a concern for current customers.
“Our issue is that all customer feedback says range and boot space are the priorities, but of course a larger fuel tank impinges on boot space,” he said.
Given the bulky nature of current hydrogen fuel cell tanks and the seemingly never-ending popularity of the crossover SUV, we agree that a new hydrogen fuel cell SUV is most likely from Hyundai, especially considering its current experience in the segment. While both Toyota and Honda — Hyundai’s only other rivals in the FCV segment — have opted to produce hydrogen fuel cell sedans, there’s no escaping the fact that both the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity lack some of the interior cabin space and practicality offered by an SUV.
Whatever it does however, there’s one thing we know Hyundai will feel under great pressure to accomplish: reduce the cost of manufacturing a hydrogen fuel cell car to a price point that makes it affordable for everyday car buyers. If it can’t, its next hydrogen vehicle — like its Tucson FCV — will be little more than a compliance car, built in limited numbers to satisfy zero emission requirements.
Do you agree? Will Hyundai’s next hydrogen fuel cell vehicle be a custom-designed SUV? Or will it be something similar in design to the 2016 Toyota Mirai and 2017 Honda Clarity?
Moreover, do you think a ground-up design will make Hyundai’s next hydrogen fuel cell vehicle more appealing to customers?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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