When it comes to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, there are currently three major automakers vying for market dominance: Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.
For their first production fuel cell vehicles — at least ones customers can buy — Toyota and Honda have both opted to focus on brand-new limited-volume sedans each based on their own custom-designed chassis. Hyundai meanwhile, chose to convert one of its existing vehicles — the Hyundai Tucson SUV — into a hydrogen fuel cell car.
The first to market, Hyundai’s Tucson FCV is the most unassuming of the three and, despite its limited production and limited availability, is the largest hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by volume in history, with more than three hundred examples now in use around the world. (Admittedly, that’s far less than the 1,000 vehicles Hyundai had hoped to produce by the end of 2015, but in the world of fuel cell cars, that’s a big number, believe us.)
Like the loss-leading Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity fuel cell sedans, Hyundai’s Tucson FCV was never designed to be produced in large volumes and costs Hyundai more to produce than it sells it for. And with both of its Asian rivals keen to snatch Hyundai’s crown with plans to debut more mainstream, mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell models around the end of the decade, Hyundai is busy preparing its second hydrogen fuel cell car for market.
Rather than enter a shootout against Toyota and Honda in the fuel cell sedan marketplace however, Hyundai’s next fuel cell vehicle will follow in the tire tracks of the Tucson FCV — and be an SUV too.
That’s according to Hyundai product PR boss Robin Hayes, who told Autocar last week that Hyundai has already signed off on its next hydrogen fuel cell car and is planning for a production run of between 10,000 and 15,000 vehicles over a four-year product cycle. Referring to predicted sales figures, Hayes said that Hyundai’s final production figures for the as-yet unnamed hydrogen fuel cell SUV would be entirely dependent on demand, with production scaled up or down as required.
Of the 250 or so Hyundai Tucson (iX35) fuel cell SUVs on the roads in Europe, a large majority are owned or leased by corporations eager to be at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Many of these have a vested interest in the success of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, meaning that Hyundai hasn’t found itself struggling to find customers to buy the limited-production vehicle.
For its next-generation fuel cell SUV however, Hyundai hopes to offer a car that will target mainstream car buyers. To ensure the high adoption volume it needs for sales success, Hyundai will have to ensure the next-generation SUV both meets customer’s demands in terms of performance, range and specification but also comes at an affordable price.
And that means beating the current-generation Tucson FCV on its mediocre performance, 265-mile range and $75,000 price tag.
But perhaps the biggest challenge facing Hyundai’s next-generation fuel cell SUV won’t be building a compelling car that leverages economies of scale to bring down its sticker price: it’ll be ensuring there’s enough hydrogen filling stations for customers to fuel their cars at.
Given how long it’s taken to install the limited numbers of functional hydrogen filling stations across key market areas like Southern California, we’d suggest Hyundai — and its rivals — need to focus on ensuring there are places to fill up before talking about next-generation models all that much.
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