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Hyundai plots hydrogen fuel cell future for electric cars

Korean car maker believes today’s battery EVs will one day be superseded by hydrogen cars that emit only water

Korean car maker Hyundai has announced plans to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) crack the mainstream on a global scale, pledging to ensure FCEV prices end up comparable with battery electric vehicles by 2035.

FCEVs differ from battery cars (BEVs) because they use hydrogen to produce electricity, reducing the need for rare earth metals and other finite resources that make up some of the most important components in today’s generation of electric cars. In short, FCEVs promise a greener future for cars in an increasingly eco-conscious world.

That’s all obviously good news, but despite having so much promise, FCEVs have so far not really taken off, largely because of cost - both at the manufacturing end and the consumer side. But with an automotive giant like Hyundai pledging to focus on the tech, there’s reason to be optimistic that this green, logistically and financially difficult fuel source could one day become realistic on a global scale. Hyundai’s prediction that purchase prices of FCEV cars will match those of BEVs by the end of the decade is significant – and arguably very ambitious.

Hyundai isn’t being unrealistic, though, as shown by its use of a part-battery electric system in its new Vision FK concept car (pictured top), which the brand has revealed to demonstrate its plans at the 2021 IAA Mobility Show in Munich.

The Vision FK – itself pointing to a future production model that could reach the market this decade – uses both BEV and FCEV technology, making it a hybrid of sorts, albeit without any petrol or diesel engine to go with it. The use of two electricity-generating technologies is a solution to make life easier while hydrogen infrastructure catches up with BEV infrastructure in the coming years. It also helps keep weight down as the battery – typically the heaviest part of a BEV – can be smaller.

Naturally, the concept has some pretty spectacular numbers to go with its setup, including a 680hp output and a sub-four-second 0-62mph time. Hyundai claims a 373-mile range, meaning it’s right up there with the very best BEVs from the get-go.

Imagine what that number could be when the technology is more developed. Most significantly, Hyundai intends to roll out its latest FCEV hardware quickly and on a mass production scale, with the groundwork already having been done thanks to the company’s existing FCEV offering, the Nexo. The new plan will attempt to build on that low volume car’s successes with a broad portfolio of FCEVs.

While clearly technically feasible, this is also certainly an admirable mission, and one that goes against the BEV-focused plans many of Hyundai’s rivals are increasingly adopting. Few people would argue against the fact that hydrogen power – a fuel source that uses an abundant element and emits nothing but water at the tailpipe – makes a lot of sense when it comes to private car solutions. But few have also taken on the challenge to date.

Kudos to Hyundai for having a crack at it. That said, we shouldn’t overlook the rapid progress being made in the world of battery electric vehicles, which are coming out thick and fast with ever-growing numbers on their specification sheets. Best of all, progress shows no signs of slowing down.