It Is Great That Hyundai Is Not Canceling Its Hydrogen Vehicle Development

Earlier this week, rumors announced that Hyundai had stopped developing its hydrogen fuel cell vehicles amid slow sales. The speculation was based on the fact that the company had shut down its R&D center for combustion engines, but Hyundai representatives were quick to deny the story.
Hyundai Vision FK concept 15 photos
Photo: Hyundai
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As Hyundai representatives told South Korean business newspaper Maeil Business, the report published by The Chosun IIbo is false, and the company continues its development of fuel cell vehicles, as well as the electrification of the Genesis fleet.

Just a few months ago, Hyundai presented a plan called Vision 2040, which also featured hydrogen-powered vehicles on top of EVs. The Korean marque is already working on the third generation of its fuel cell stack, and that technology is supposed to be featured in an unnamed 2025 Genesis hydrogen vehicle.

Despite what Elon Musk thinks about hydrogen, the technology is here, and it can work as an alternative in numerous ways. While the South-African-born billionaire's vision on this alternative fuel is understandable if you consider that he is all-in on electric power, it is easy to see where FCEVs may be more suited than EVs, as well as other uses for hydrogen.

Musk's opinion on the matter of hydrogen is shared by VW CEO Herbert Diess, but the German leader of the country's largest vehicle manufacturing conglomerate is motivated by a belief that hydrogen is better suited for other industries. Diess described hydrogen as "far too expensive, inefficient, slow, and difficult to roll out and transport."

Companies like BMW, Daimler, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai have a different opinion, as each has experimented with hydrogen in one form or another and deployed hydrogen-powered vehicles in one way or another. Mazda and GM have also experimented with hydrogen, and the list does not end here.

Hydrogen-fueled vehicles currently face a big setback in the form of a limited network of refuel stations. These cannot be implemented in the same manner as EV charging stations, as they require a few extra precautions to ensure the safety of users and those around them.

The way that fuel cell vehicles work involves a small-sized battery, which cannot be recharged from a plug, like a PHEV, so there is no chance of making an FCEV drive once its hydrogen tank goes empty.

Hyundai Fuel Cells
Photo: Hyundai
Another issue with hydrogen is linked to the way it is obtained, as not all hydrogen is green hydrogen. While being expensive, the most common sources of hydrogen involve the oil industry and fossil fuels, which is acceptable only if you want to prove the concept of hydrogen working as a fuel but not sustainable going forward.

With the facts laid out above, you should consider it excellent news that the Hyundai Group will not focus solely on electric power in the future. It might be a risky strategy if a breakthrough in hydrogen tech appears, and it would mean that all that they accomplished in this field would have been wasted.

Let us think back at the GM EV1, which was ahead of its time and could have made the American corporation a leader in electric vehicle technology but was killed off.

Discontinuing technology is rarely good news for an industry, except when that technology is bad for the environment, unsustainable, or it is replaced by something superior in several ways. In the case of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, they can be alternatives for EVs in situations where large tanks can be fitted, and higher ranges are required, and this is just one use-case scenario.

Think about public transportation – instead of having to recharge a fleet of dozens or hundreds of electric buses, they could be refilled with hydrogen and operate emission-free and with no pressure on the power grid. Since they can fit large tanks under their floors, buses are perfectly suited for hydrogen use, and large and expensive batteries will not be required for them.

The same can be said about trucks, which operate on predictable routes for most of their usable lives. In the case of personal vehicles, hydrogen technology can still be employed, as it is today, as it can be a zero-emission alternative to electric vehicles.

The worst thing that could happen to the automotive industry would be to put horse goggles on their engineers' heads and focus on nothing else except electric vehicles. Nobody will find better technology if no one is looking for alternatives.
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Editor's note: For illustration purposes, the photo gallery features the Hyundai Vision FK as well as several other Hyundai Mobis Group concept vehicles that run on hydrogen.

About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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