First Drive: Hyundai ix35 FCEV
This first batch, of 1,000 vehicles, is being built alongside conventionally powered ix35 SUVs at Hyundai’s plant in Busan, South Korea. It’s an updated version of the car decision makers and journalists have been testing for a couple of years now, but behind its facelifted grille is technology which will be deployed for real-world use while the carmaker prepares for a 10,000-unit run beginning in 2015.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have always sounded utopian. Using a chemical reaction similar to reverse electrolysis, the car’s fuel cell stack produces electricity from pure hydrogen gas, with water as the only by-product. In turn, this is used to drive an electric motor.
For those who lease one of the first 1,000 cars, what this means is the silence and instantaneous torque delivery of an electric car, but with three-minute refuelling times and a range in line with a petrol or diesel car. All achieved using renewable and abundant fuel.
There’s still a long way to go as far as developing a network of refuelling stations, but Hyundai hopes the production-built ix35 FCEV will go a long way towards creating the demand that will make the first few profitable. It will also bring about the economies of scale needed to make the car itself cheaper to build.
Despite the revolutionary technology under the skin, this feels entirely conventional to drive. The car comes to life silently with the start button on the dashboard, and drives like a very quiet automatic ix35. Although the drivetrain adds XXXXkg to the kerb weight, it produces 136bhp so acceleration is brisk and the car doesn’t wallow heavily while cornering.
Of course, there’s no four-wheel drive option available. The space where the required mechanical parts would normally live is taken up by a hydrogen tank under the boot floor. Once filled, this provides a near 370-mile range. Enough for a return journey from London to Sheffield.
New to the production version is a more advanced infotainment system. This now shows data about what the drivetrain is doing, and provides a one-click function which navigates to the nearest hydrogen refuelling station. Because the range is so much longer than in a battery-electric car, the refuelling infrastructure required to give nationwide coverage is 1/25th of the size, Hyundai claims. A network of 60 is anticipated by 2020, rising to 1,100 by 2030.
Ultimately, though, this won’t happen without the likes of Hyundai bringing vehicles to market. The ix35 FCEV will be available with right and left hand drive and, provided the government can incentivise this emerging sector, it paves the way for a long-promised technology to finally come to market.
This may be a niche model, but it’s a vital step in the right direction for hydrogen fuel cell cars, putting greater numbers of drivers behind the wheel and creating demand for the much-needed refueling infrastructure that will help the sector to grow.
Type: Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle
Fuel: 65 miles per kg (H2)
Electric range: 370 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 0g/km
Charging Port: N/A