Hyundai Still Backing Hydrogen Fuel Cells--Where Infrastructure Exists

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Hyundai ix35 hydrogen fuel-cell car

Hyundai ix35 hydrogen fuel-cell car

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On June 3, Hyundai delivered the first ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle in Europe, to the City of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Production of the company's hydrogen-fueled vehicle began in February.

That means that its first production hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle is now on the roads, albeit at low planned volumes (like most fuel-cell cars).

Hyundai says it will build 1,000 of the hydrogen-fueled compact crossover by 2015, at its Ulsan factory in South Korea. It has been developing fuel-cell technology since 1998.

That vehicle will come to the U.S. as the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, although whether it will be offered to retail customers or only for fleet use remains unclear.

“Hyundai Motor is committed to hydrogen as the fuel of the future for Europe," said Hyundai Motor Europe president Byung Kwon Rhim during the delivery ceremony.

He called hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles produced on an assembly line "a realistic solution to the region’s sustainable mobility needs.”

Remaining cautious

In a followup interview with Miles Johnson, Hyundai's senior manager of midwest product public relations, AutoblogGreen found that the company remains cautious about the prospects for hydrogen cars.

Johnson's point--expressed several times within a lengthy six-paragraph statement--is that even if Hyundai and other makers can bring down the cost of hydrogen-fueled cars after 2015 through higher production volume, they'll remain limited to those few areas where hydrogen-fueling infrastructure exists:

"The fuel cell station infrastructure in the US still needs the government's financial support."

"Infrastructure development in the US has been slow, thereby limiting any potential demand."

"Currently Hyundai is investigating potential demand for the Tucson Fuel Cell Vehicle in the US market, particularly in California, where most of the H2 refueling infrastructure development has taken place."

"H2 infrastructure in various regions still limits potential sales, thus large scale production will be tempered until the infrastructure catches up with technology development."

Hydrogen vs. electric

Johnson's cautions underscore the challenge faced by zero-emission hydrogen vehicles when compared to plug-in electric cars.

Essentially every car-owning U.S. household has electricity, meaning it has the potential for its own "fueling infrastructure."

Hyundai ix35 Fuell Cell Vehicle

Hyundai ix35 Fuell Cell Vehicle

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Hydrogen stations, on the other hand, cost more than $1 million apiece to install, with roughly 15,000 needed to cover the U.S. if each one were optimally located.

And as GM discovered during its "Project Driveway" fleet test of 100 hydrogen-fueled Equinox crossover utility vehicles, getting fueling stations approved can even require changing local zoning codes.

Fewer than 100 hydrogen fueling stations exist in the U.S. today, against roughly 1,000 for natural-gas vehicles (about half of which are open to the public).

Four makers will launch

Today, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota each plan to offer low numbers of hydrogen vehicles between now and 2016.

Daimler, Ford, and Nissan-Renault announced early this year that they would combine their hydrogen fuel-cell development programs.

At the same time, Mercedes-Benz delayed its production launch of a hydrogen vehicle for two years, until 2017.

It was one of four makers that had committed to launch production cars powered by hydrogen between 2015 and 2018.

General Motors has pulled back from its broader research on hydrogen vehicles to concentrate on plug-in electric vehicles.


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Comments (7)
  1. "Hydrogen stations, on the other hand, cost more than $1 million apiece to install, with roughly 15,000 needed to cover the U.S. if each one were optimally located."
    That's $15 Trillion… plus the cost extra to fill the stations with hydrogen gas.

    In comparison, Tesla is rolling out it's SuperCharger network on 250 locations for EVs that'll provide 100% coverage in 2015 (to supplement home and existing 10,000+ Level2 EV charging stations).
    Installation cost for a SuperCharger station has be noted to be approximately $150,000 ($300,000 with solar canopy & energy storage). Cost to use SuperCharger is free vs. hydrogen at __ $/kg?

  2. Another comparison… the ~120,000 petro gas stations currently in U.S. (2012) down from over 200,000 in 1994.
    In 2012 the average gas station sold ~$1 million in regular unleaded gas. Average per capita sales was $2000-$3000 per year to keep petroleum stations in business.

  3. 15,000x $1 million is 15 billion which is still plenty of scratch.

    if superchargers are cheaper, and you can have existing electricians install them. i'm not sure how hydrogen gets a start.

    I usually look at Hydrogen as a sandbox. We are selling a couple thousand electric cars every month, and installing Level 2 chargers with each of them. we don't need too many level 3 chargers to get major routes open.

  4. "Where infrastructure exists", Lol why bother? An electric car charger can be placed anywhere and isn't all that different from installing a light post and it's safer for public use. You could let a kid plug in your electric car no problem, but hydrogen no way. Electric cars are as safe as a cell phone and work on an already existing global infrastructure. It's a no brainer.

  5. The cost per hydrogen station is probably going to drop rapidly. Hydrogen can be produced electrolytically at a moderate cost, almost anywhere. Just add water and electricity. In many countries of the world hydrogen fuel can be cheaper than gasoline. A hydrogen tank station can be set up in 48h ( ). It thus may be easier to implement infrastructure for hydrogen zero-emission fuel cell vehicles than for other non-fossil driven vehicles.
    Musk calls fuel cells "fool cells". That is unwise. The Tesla Superchargers are admirable, but battery prices seem to decline slower than fuel cell prices. Let us unite against the main enemy: The fossil-driven internal combustion energy motor!

  6. Wondering,
    about a hydrogen/electric hybrid...
    If you have a battery good for 100 miles,
    and a hydrogen tank for another 100 or so...
    I'm thinking a smaller hydrogen tank simpler,
    and since hydrogen is converted into electricity
    it seems like a nice fit.

  7. Fuel Cells have become cost effective and robust to deliver a 300,000 mile 2015 Fuel Cell Vehicle. They can be combined with a hybrid battery system to make a super efficient automobile. If Hydrogen stations are not available in the near future use the Natural Gas Stations as fuel initially for the Fuel Cell Vehicle. The Chevy Volt can be modified to use a Fuel Cell in place of its gas generator to produce the electrical power needed. It is a no brainer that we should go to this type of clean energy automobile.

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