Three Million Miles and 1,140 Tons
Miles to where and tons of what?
Hyundai announced recently that its 2017 Tucson FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) reached some pretty lofty numbers. Since being introduced in 2014, 150+ Tucson FCEV have been delivered to customers and have driven in excess of three million miles. In the process, they have only emitted clean water from the tailpipe, which has replaced more than 1,140 tons of CO2 emissions compared to the same number of miles driven in a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.
The only crossover that emits water
Sounds great, and it is, but with a few caveats. First off, you need to live in California to be part of Hyundai’s hydrogen program. You then need to prove you live near one of the state’s 33 hydrogen fueling stations. Then you have the opportunity to lease (not buy) a Hyundai Tucson FCEV. Why all the restrictions, because heck, isn’t hydrogen the most abundant element on Earth? Yes, it is, but with a few more caveats.
Converting hydrogen from its natural state into a fuel is an expensive process. Oil companies have not jumped onboard with any semblance of enthusiasm to produce hydrogen as a transportation fuel in mass quantity, nor investing in building retail hydrogen fuel stations, which cost about $1.2 million dollars each. From the oil company’s standpoint, why should they go to the expense when there are so few hydrogen-powered cars on the road (only 2,298 were sold/leased in 2017)? Hyundai, Honda and Toyota (the three auto manufacturers that currently build and market consumer hydrogen vehicles) respond that, how can we get more cars on the road with so few stations? And sales in 2017 did double from the previous year. A true conundrum for our times.
So while these companies are trying to figure which came first – the chicken or the egg, let’s take a look at the merits of the Hyundai Tucson FCEV, one of the three fuel cell vehicles on the market, and see if having more stations will get you into one.
Hydrogen Power: On the Road
The 2017 Hyundai Tucson FCEV Clean Fleet Report tested for a few days had a 95 kW AC synchronous motor producing 134 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the fuel economy to be 50 mi/kg (miles per kilogram of hydrogen) for combined city and highway, with an estimated 265-mile driving range. About that driving range–don’t test it unless you know for a FACT you will be near a hydrogen fueling station when the tank is getting low. Because, if you run out of fuel, your next call will be for emergency roadside assistance and a ride home on a flatbed. Something else about when it is time to refuel: make sure to do it before the tank is empty as there is a detailed process to get the hydrogen system operating again, which can only be performed by a factory-trained technician.
The cockpit of the Tucson FCEV is as comfortable as the gas version
Out on the road, the Tucson was stable and unaffected by Southern California’s grooved concrete freeways. The grooving is for rain dispersion so tire noise in any car is common, and the seams between the concrete sections can, if hit at the right sped, produce a rhythmic thumpity-thumpity-thump. The Tucson, with 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/60R tires and electronic stability control, delivered handling that was direct with little body roll, even though it’s an upright crossover design. There is nothing sporty about the Tucson but, then again, Hyundai does not market it as a sporty car. Excessive wind noise was not an issue, making the silent electric motor even that more enjoyable.
The Tucson’s battery is replenished through the regenerative braking charging system. This technology converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and electric motor. The regenerative brakes made solid stops with a system consisting of power assisted discs, anti-lock brakes (ABS), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
After your first visit to a hydrogen fuel station, you will be a pro. Start by going to The California Fuel Cell Partnership website to find stations that are on your driving route. Since there are so few, you will come to memorize their locations quickly. Stations are open 24/7 and unattended, but there is a toll-free number to call for assistance. A drawback is that the stations are not always operational, so it is imperative to check the website often.
Fueling is simple, once you’ve done it more than once
Once at the station, the fueling process is explained through a video that plays on the pump and a sign with step-by-step instructions. Quick lesson: The nozzle notches into the car, followed by the twisting of a handle to lock it in place. It can be a bit tricky. Be patient, it will eventually fit. If there are two pressure options on your pump, you always want to select 70 Bar, which is 10,000 psi. The filling will start and stop for a few seconds at a time, but a complete fill is under five minutes. When removing the nozzle, you will notice it is cold. This is because the hydrogen gas is cooled to right around zero degrees Fahrenheit to increase the hydrogen’s density, which results in more gas filling the tank. That’s it! Take your receipt for your free fill-up (more on that free gas later) and off you go.
Free? Yes, free! Since Hyundai will only lease the Tucson FCEV, they include the hydrogen fuel in the lease.
Crossover Interior Benefits
The 2017 Tucson can seat five full-size adults, with the rear passengers getting good head and leg room, a 60/40 split rear seat and a center armrest with cup holders. The front and rear leather covered seats are heated. The driver’s front seat is power adjustable, with lumbar support. Comfort-wise, the seats are firm and, for the driver, finding a good driving position is helped by the power tilt and telescopic steering column.
Gauges are large and well-placed for viewing. The largest element of the dash is an seven-inch high-resolution touch-screen color display, housing the navigation and rear view camera. The 360-watt, with subwoofer, infotainment system was AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio equipped, along with CD and MP3 capability. There is also Bluetooth streaming, iPod and auxiliary audio jacks and an USB port, all controlled hands-free by the controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The audio system has knobs for volume and channel selection, something Clean Fleet Report requires for a sound system to get an A+ grade from our discerning staff.
The 2017 Tucson FCEV comes in one model, with no options other than exterior color. All Tucson FCEVs are leased, which is what you want to do with any battery electric or fuel cell car as the technology is changing so rapidly that ownership is not the way to go. The current lease offer is $2,999 at signing and $499 per month, for 36 months. Remember that all your fuel is included and, in California, fuel cell cars qualify for the coveted HOV lane sticker that allows a single driver to use the carpool lane.
The hydrogen tank is packed away in the crossover’s rear
Safety, Convenience and Warranties
The 2017 Hyundai FCEV has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, it is well equipped for safety with front and side-impact airbags with rollover sensors and the carbon-fiber hydrogen fuel tank is virtually bulletproof. The gasoline version of the Tucson received a 5 Star (top) rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Convenience features include remote keyless entry, push button start/stop, power door locks and windows, dual automatic climate control with clean air ionizer, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with Homelink and compass, heated and power outside mirrors and a tire pressure monitoring system.
The 2017 Tucson FCEV comes with these warranties:
- Powertrain 10 years/100,000-miles
- New Vehicle Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance Five years/Unlimited miles
- Anti-perforation Seven years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2017 Hyundai Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Hydrogen is listed first on the periodic table. Good being first, but there is a reason as hydrogen has a near unlimited abundance. Capturing it and separating it into hydrogen gas is an expensive proposition.
The Tucson is about to be replaced by the Nexo
Hydrogen currently sells for around $10 per equivalent to a gallon of gasoline. To run a FCEV versus a plug-in electric will cost about four times as much, varying based on your cost of electricity. To sweeten the deal, Hyundai includes all the fuel over a three-year lease, so you do not need to be concerned with the price of hydrogen gas. Just fill ‘er up and go!
Is the Tucson FCEV right for your lifestyle and driving pattern? If you are looking for a car with the most useable interior space among all fuel cell vehicles, the Tucson is it. The crossover has an excellent reliability record and will cost nothing to operate, so it may be a good option. Of course, the real deciding factor is where you live. If you are reading this outside of California, you will have to wait awhile before hydrogen fuel cell technology comes to your state.
What’s Next from Hyundai
Late in 2018, as a 2019 model, Hyundai is releasing an all-new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Hyundai Nexo is a striking, small SUV that continues Hyundai’s exclusivity of offering a fuel cell vehicle in the most popular vehicle category. Since the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai are sedans, Hyundai has placed themselves in a strong position to gain buyers, especially as the hydrogen fuel stations increase in number.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
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At this week’s Frankfurt auto show, automakers will be vying to show that Tesla won’t overtake them by introducing a passel of battery-electric vehicles themselves. Here’s a look from Clean Fleet Report of one of those new electrified cars that you could be driving by the end of this decade.
Frankfurt Motor Show Sees Advances on Hydrogen Front
Mercedes-Benz arrived at the Frankfurt Motor Show with a pre-production plug-in fuel-cell version of its GLC F-Cell, ahead of its showroom debut next year. The GLC F-Cell is exactly what the name suggests: a fuel-cell version of Mercedes’ GLC-Class compact crossover/SUV that has been rolling off the production line since July 2015.
The GLC F-Cell looks ready to hit the road
A prototype model was seen at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, and the pre-production GLC F-Cell’s powertrain is a near duplication. It features both a fuel-cell stack and a lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged by pluggin in, an industry first.
Fill Up With Hydrogen—Or, Plug It In
The centerpiece of the GLC F-Cell EQ Power’s technology, the fuel-cell stack, was developed in Vancouver, Canada, together with partner Ford in the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC) joint venture. Around 30 percent more compact than previous stacks, it can be fully housed in the engine bay for the first time. Furthermore, the cost of the fuel cell stack technology has been slashed thanks largely to a 90-percent reduction in the amount of platinum used in the stack.
Electrical energy used to power the GLC F-Cell’s electric motors is generated on board within the fuel cell stack in a reaction between compressed hydrogen and oxygen. Two carbon-fiber-encased tanks are located in the middle and under the rear seats, storing four kilograms of hydrogen. Mercedes states that the tanks can be refilled within three minutes and provide 271 miles of emissions-free driving range.
The fuel cell now fits under the hood
A 13.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is housed at the rear of the SUV to save space and provides about 30 miles of battery-electric driving, for a total range of 301 miles. Regenerative braking allows energy to be recuperated and stored in the battery during braking and coasting phases. Like plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles, the battery can be recharged using a standard 120-volt household outlet, a home recharger or a public charging station.
Combined output for the rear-wheel drive luxury crossover is about 197 horsepower and a hearty 258 pounds-feet of torque. Charging time for the battery on a standard household outlet using the 7.2 kW on-board chargers takes just 1.5 hours. The GLC F-Cell will have three driving modes (Eco, Comfort and Sport), as well as four operating modes (Hybrid, F-Cell, Battery and Charge).
The Mercedes GLC F-Cell will go on sale in the U.S. by the end of 2019, but it’s unlikely that it will be sold outside of California, as there are only 40 hydrogen refueling stations available in the U.S. and all but four of them are in California.
Something New, Something Different, Something for the Future
Toyota wants you to take a good look at the new Mirai fuel cell car and see something else—the 2000 Toyota Prius. Well, they don’t really want you to see that—they just want to think about the Mirai with both the perspective of what the Prius was when it was introduced in 2000 (new innovative technology) and what it stands for now 15 years later (the poster child for hybrid, high-mpg cars).
Trailblazers getting an inside view of the future
If the Prius is the vehicle you think of when you say hybrid, then you’re on the right track. The Prius (in its original liftback form) still represents 31.4 percent all hybrid sales, not even counting its
“family” of like-named vehicles. The “c” and “V” variants add 17.1 percent of hybrid sales so the family accounts for almost half of hybrid sales. And that’s not adding in the non-Prius Toyota and Lexus hybrids (which are another almost 20 percent of hybrid sales) or the plug-in Prius (which has a 15-percent share of plug-in hybrid sales). Let’s just say Prius has made its mark on the automotive marketplace. That’s what Toyota wants to replicate with the Mirai and fuel cells. Where they can, they trade on the market image of Prius, with the Mirai labeled as using the Synergy Drive, Toyota’s trademark for its hybrid system.
Like the Prius, the Mirai is not the first fuel cell on the market. Hyundai did that last year by jumping into the market with its Tucson FCEV, ignoring for the moment Honda, Mercedes and GM’s marketing efforts that have put hundreds of fuel cells in consumer hands. Being first doesn’t seem to be part of the Toyota playbook, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be putting on a full-court press to become to fuel cells what the Prius is to hybrids.
Toyota knows it takes time for a new technology to take hold and their commitment to hydrogen cars looks long-term. “It’s the technology for the next 100
Trailblazers check out the Prius of the future
years,” said Ed La Rocque, Toyota’s national manager for fuel cell vehicles. “As with the Prius, (the 20 years of in-house R&D) were an investment,” he added. But they hope the ramp up won’t take that long (though they seem to be acknowledging it will take longer than the Prius to make it to substantial sales.
The first U.S. Mirai deliveries will take place in October (it’s been on sale in Japan since earlier this year), so Toyota’s most recent consumer outreach was a meeting to give those early adopters a chance to hear more about the car and take it out for a drive. The other part of the agenda was to draw more “intenders” into the mix. The 15-stop tour was just beginning, but weekend 30-minute test drives have sold out, according to Toyota. To sweeten the deal Toyota is offering $7,500 on top of the federal and state tax breaks and incentives to ones who sign on early, one’s they’re calling “trailblazers.” One additional Toyota perk is a complimentary “seven-day road trip” in a conventional Toyota vehicle during each year of Mirai ownership. With that the fuel cell driver can venture beyond the still limited range of hydrogen fueling stations.
Those trailblazers will get to experience the latest version of Toyota’s fuel cell technology—an electric car capable of storing some of its braking energy in nickel-metal-hydride batteries (like those found in all Toyota hybrids except for the Plug-in Prius). The fuel cell takes in compressed hydrogen and converts it to electricity, leaving water vapor as the only thing coming out of the tailpipe.
The “miracle” of the fuel cell explained
That fuel cell is the fourth generation Toyota’s developed, capable of living up to a 100,000-mile warranty and delivering more than 300 miles of range. Although the Mirai retails for $57,500 before the rebates and incentives kick in, its fuel cell stack’s cost has dropped 95 percent since Toyota started work 20 years ago. For the first buyers a lease option will also be available. Its $499/month charge will include up to $15,000 worth of fuel (roughly three years’ worth), three years of free scheduled maintenance and “enhanced” roadside assistance, something particularly valuable given the limited fueling network and problems early users have had with it.
What has drawn Toyota to fuel cell technology is its capability, unlike hybrid or electric drive, of scaling up to virtually any application. Who Toyota thinks will be attracted to the Mirai is another matter. Russ Mobley, one of the executives of at San Francisco Toyota, one of the few initial retailers of the Mirai, sees “pin-point buyers” being attracted. He says those potential buyers are pre-qualified (geographically, primarily, by being within range of a fueling station) on a web-based reservation system, but run the gamut of professions, including engineers, lawyers and architects—people “who aren’t afraid to be trailblazers” and share the vision of the Mirai as the “next Prius.”
Clean Fleet Report talked with one of these trailblazers, Danny German, who was excited about getting into his Mirai in a couple months. He said he was looking for a “small footprint” and was not daunted by the refueling issues. Up to this point the San Francisco resident has owned five hybrids (no EVs or PHEVs), but he promised to report back to CFR on his experience with this new technology.
It looks like we’ll be delivering many more reports as this new technology enters the market.
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Company Loves Its Hybrids But Likes Hydrogen Better Than Electricity.
The race to provide the car of the future is heating up and it should surprise no one that one of the world’s largest car companies, Toyota, is right in the middle of chase to provide it. For Toyota, that future car is powered by a fuel cell that produces electricity on-board from hydrogen.
Craig Scott, Toyota’s national manager of advanced technologies, brought that message recently to a meeting of the Western Automotive Journalists, a Northern California-based group of auto writers.
Scott points to the future
Scott’s message was clear–the car’s are real, they’ll be on sale next year and they will deliver what consumers want in a car while helping the automaker to meet tightening emissions regulations around the globe. Toyota’s fuel cell story is in sync with its competitors Hyundai and Honda, who are also ready to enter the market, as well as other companies that will follow–Daimler/Mercedes, Ford, Nissan, General Motors and BMW. The cars will offer a range comparable to gas models and a similar fill up time (both advantages cited for offering a fuel cell electric car as opposed to a battery electric one). The catch, of course, is where those fill ups will take place. As Scott reported, the state California has dedicated $20 million a year for the next decade to put 100 stations in place, augmenting the meager network of nine that exist right now.
Because fuel cell vehicles have no emissions of either criteria pollutants or greenhouse gases (GHG), they fit California’s quest for zero emission vehicles and help the automaker meet U.S. federal and other countries’ goals for reduced GHGs.
Zoomy Concept Shown
The concept fuel cell FCHV (for Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle to remind of Toyota’s bread-and-butter advanced technology) sedan Toyota has been showing was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show last year and most recently showed up at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Scott indicated that next year’s production car would use the zoomy styling of the concept, though not all of the details of the show car would make it to the
An aggressive alternative fuel
street. Costs of the fuel cell “engine” hardware have dropped significantly in the last few years, Scott said, meaning the cars that go on sale in 2015 may still be more expensive than their petroleum-powered cousins, but they won’t cost automakers the $1 million the prototypes did during the past decade. Costs and prices are expected to drop further as production volumes ramp up in the 2020s and other advances in technology, such as reducing the amount of exotic metals like platinum, come on board.
The advances and volumes are expected to come not just because consumers are expected to snatch up great numbers of fuel cell cars when they get to the market, but because automakers have banded together to share costs and collaborate to move the technology forward. Toyota is working with BMW, Ford, Daimler and Nissan are working together, GM and Honda have formed an alliance while Hyundai is going it alone and Fiat-Chrysler appears to be sitting out this round.
The Market Begins
Although both Honda and Mercedes have been leasing limited number of their fuel cell cars for a couple years, Hyundai will be the first on the retail market with a real push. Michael O’Brien, Hyundai’s vice president of corporate and product planning, told the Governor’s Office Summit on Zero Emission Vehicles (March 7, 2014) that the first load of Tucson FCEVs (Hyundai uses the more conventional Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle
Future fueling too?
nomenclature) will ship from Korea in 3-4 weeks, arriving in April and going on sale mid-May at four dealerships in Southern California. Hyundai previously announced it would offer a $2,999 down, $499 lease that includes free fuel and maintenance for the three years of the lease. Hyundai’s also going to make the Tucson FCEV available for rent through Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
Scott said Toyota isn’t ready to talk pricing on its fuel cell sedan, but it can be expected to be competitive. We’ve seen the same dynamic at work in the electric car space, where the limited market has driven all the automakers to offer very similar discounted leases. Toyota executives have also said they will approach their fuel cell vehicles with the kind of patience they showed with the Prius hybrid introduction. That technology took almost a decade before it took hold in the market, but Toyota has said they’re in it for the long haul and will be able to continue investing in the technology until the market catches up with it.
Taking a page from the Tesla playbook, Scott also said Toyota is planning to augment any public hydrogen stations with a network of its own, which may be a key way of reassuring new buyers that they will be able to refuel. In the same vein, Honda recently demonstrated a quick refueling station that reduces the fill time to about three minutes, more than comparable to the time spent with a gas or diesel car.
While Toyota and Honda both showed off concept versions of their upcoming fuel cell cars, Hyundai introduced theirs as a Tucson-based model, virtually indistinguishable from the gas version except for badging. Hyundai corrected that by introducing the Intrado FCEV concept at the Geneva Auto Show.
Expect the drumbeat of fuel cell announcements to continue through the year as automakers gear up for more of the cars appearing on the market. Much of the news will be California-centric, but other centers of fuel cell infrastructure and vehicles can be found in Germany, Japan and Korea with England, Denmark and Singapore also in the mix.
Photos by Michael Coates & the manufacturers
Published March 8, 2014
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Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicle
Of course, they never left, but the relentless focus on pure battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids as available zero emissions transportation solutions has overshadowed the technology that many automakers consider the most “elegant” solution to the challenge of replacing the internal combustion engine.
The most recent news is the announcement of a joint venture in hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) between General Motors and Honda. This follows by a couple months a similar alliance between Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Ford and Nissan. BMW and Toyota have also banded together on fuel cell development.
While the deals sound a lot like pre-competitive alliances that automakers often pursue, the commercial horizon is much sooner for fuel cells than many might realize. Hyundai, one of the few major companies, along with Volkswagen, who is going it alone, has already started series production of 1,000 FCEVs (to be completed by 2015). Toyota’s FCEV goes on sale next year; Honda has built and leased 100 of its Clarity FCEVs; Daimler has built and deployed several hundred of its F-Cell cars. That said, the leap to the next level (thousands of cars instead of the current hundreds) is now expected by 2020.
The Hydrogen Joke
The inside-the-industry joke has been that fuel cell vehicles are the cars of the future—and always will be—with the subtext that the future is perpetually 20 years away. Based on the recent activities in the field, that 20 years may have shrunk to about five.
The attraction of fuel cell vehicles for automakers is clear.
- The cars work just like electric cars;
- They’re quiet,
- They use proven electric motors that provide quick acceleration,
- They present configuration opportunities since the fuel cell is smaller than an engine and can be placed virtually anywhere on the car,
- They don’t have the range issues of battery electric cars because instead of relying on stored electrical energy from a battery, the FCEV creates its own electricity from the hydrogen passing through the fuel cell.
The basic technology is old (more than 150 years old), but it has been honed by automakers and innovators during the past two decades (or in GM’s case, more than four decades) so that its durability and deliverable range is comparable to a gas engine while it is much more efficient and environmentally benign at the tailpipe (the only thing coming out is water vapor). And automakers also can count on extra credit in the CAFE fuel economy game.
Of course, hydrogen fuel cells also have challenges, which are alluded to in the “car of the future” joke. While fuel cell costs are down, they’re still significantly more than that of a traditional gas or diesel engine. Hydrogen, too, even when steam-reformed from currently cheap natural gas, carries a premium. Storing the hydrogen involves having a tank that needs to be of a material that can hold the gaseous fuel in a highly compressed state compared with a gas tank that can be made from relatively cheap composite material. Infrastructure has to be built, unlike ubiquitous gasoline and diesel stations and electric plugs that can be found everywhere.
But that infrastructure is being built around the world. California just offered $20 million for companies to continue to build stations needed for the initial vehicle launches and Korea, Japan, Germany and other countries have active government-industry coalitions ramping up stations.
While it still has some significant hurdles, the hydrogen future appears to be closer than ever with the new alignment within the auto industry. These alliances give them an edge on cost issues and presents a more unified front to skeptics who have written off automakers’ fuel cell focus as a diversion from other technologies like battery electrics. In reality, no automaker can afford to pass on any zero emission technology, particularly one this developed and seemingly ready-to-go. But, as with predictions of battery breakthroughs and magical alternative fuels produced from waste, it would be wise to file these latest announcements and check back in a couple years to see what real progress has been made.
GM’s last fuel cell project, the Chevy Equinoz