Last week, the very first 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell hydrogen-powered vehicle was delivered to lessee Timothy Bush in Southern California.
The event was widely covered, as the fuel-cell Tucson crossover may well be the highest-volume hydrogen vehicle on U.S. roads until Toyota and Honda start delivering their own fuel-cell vehicles over the next two years.
First 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell delivered to lessee at Tustin Hyundai, June 2014
Still, just like the first several years of hybrid sales in the U.S.--and, most likely, a number of today's battery-electric vehicles--the first hydrogen powered vehicles will lose money for their makers.
Now Byung Ki Ahn, director of Hyundai's fuel-cell group, has confirmed that directly.
In an interview with Ward's Auto, Ahn told the trade journal, “We really don’t make any money out of selling the fuel-cell vehicles for now."
And that shouldn't be a surprise.
2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at Hyundai headquarters, Fountain Valley, CA
Developing alternative technologies generally takes 10 years or more--even startup carmaker Tesla Motors celebrated its 10th birthday earlier this year--and hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions.
The combined Hyundai-Kia automaker is splitting its bets; Hyundai will focus on hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion technology, while Kia is introducing its Soul EV battery-electric car only a few months after the hydrogen Tucson hits the road.
In both cases, those cars earn credits under the zero-emission vehicle mandate that began in 2012 under the auspices of the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB).
But hydrogen vehicles earn more than twice the credits of most battery-electric vehicles, under criteria for total range and speed of refueling.
2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA
According to the Ward's article, Hyundai will accumulate the ZEV credits to offset its needs in the future, as the required number of zero-emission vehicles rises in later phases of the program.
Each Tucson Fuel Cell could be worth up to $130,000 in such credits through 2017, according to the complex calculations for valuing ZEV credits.
So Hyundai has calculated that it's OK to lose money building the cars to acquire an asset it can use to offset future liabilities under tighter regulations.
Translation: It loses money on every hydrogen vehicle.
No surprise there. But it's nice to see it in print.