That will change next year when Hyundai starts selling a Tucson SUV powered
by a hydrogen fuel cell. It will be the first mass-market vehicle of its
type to be sold or leased in the U.S.
“These things are now ready for prime time,” John Krafcik, Hyundai’s North
American CEO, said last week. His company plans to announce details of the
new Tucson on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Even as the industry focused on battery-powered and hybrid cars, automakers
such as Hyundai, Honda and Toyota kept up research on fuel cells. Now they
appear to have conquered obstacles such as high costs, safety concerns and a
lack of filling stations. These vehicles could help the companies meet
stricter future fuel-economy standards.
Automakers have been dabbling in hydrogen-powered cars since the 1960s.
General Motors announced a test fleet of hydrogen-powered Chevy Equinoxes in
the mid-2000s, and Honda leased about two-dozen FCX Clarity models for $600
per month starting in 2005.
President George W. Bush allocated $1.2 billion for hydrogen research and
said in his 2003 State of the Union address: “The first car driven by a
child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution free.” But the
program was largely scrapped by the Obama administration, which focused more
on battery-powered vehicles.
Hyundai now is making Bush’s forecast come true, beating other auto
companies to the mass market with Tucsons that have electric motors powered
by a stack of hydrogen fuel cells. Hyundai plans to start selling the
vehicles in Southern California and eventually spread to other areas as
filling stations are built.
Hyundai says it has overcome safety and storage issues with a rear-mounted
tank that has passed numerous crash tests without incident. As for filling
stations, the California Air Resources Board says there currently are nine
open to the public in the state. Legislators recently allocated about $200
million per year for 100 more, to be built by 2023.
Also at the Los Angeles show, Honda Motor Co. is scheduled to show off a
fuel-cell concept vehicle, which it says hints at the aerodynamic design of
the next generation fuel-cell vehicle to be launched in 2015. Further
details weren’t available.
Toyota Motor Corp. is scheduled to unveil its own concept fuel-cell vehicle
at this week’s Tokyo Motor Show. That one also is likely for distribution in
the mass market in 2015.
General Motors continues work on its fuel-cell vehicles.
The largest U.S. automaker, which has spent a lot of time and resources on
battery-powered cars such as the Chevrolet Volt, has no fuel-cell vehicles
currently in its new product pipeline, spokesman Dan Flores said Monday. He
said more work needs to be done on cost and infrastructure to make the cars
Hyundai is expected to introduce prices and details of how its cars will be
sold or leased at the Los Angeles show. Automakers usually offer leases when
they put new technology on the market.
Hydrogen cars likely will help automakers meet new goals from eight key
states to put more zero-emissions cars on the road.
The states, including California and New York, pledged late last month to
work together to put 3.3 million battery-powered cars, plug-in hybrids and
other clean-burning vehicles on the roads in those states by 2025. That’s
more than 15 times as many zero-emission vehicles projected to be in use in
the entire U.S. by 2015.
The other states in the pact are Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon,
Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont. The eight states together represent
about 23 percent of the U.S. auto market.