Hyundai Motor Group is doubling down on its contrarian bet that hydrogen is the wave of the future, unveiling a bold rollout plan for fuel cell technology in everything from sports cars to commercial trucks and drones while targeting price parity with battery electrics by 2030.
The strategy, unveiled under the banner of Hydrogen Wave, spells out the South Korean auto maker's ambition to popularize hydrogen power for "everyone, everything and everywhere" by 2040, not only in cars and trucks, but in public transport, industry, infrastructure and homes.
"Hyundai Motor Group's vision is to apply hydrogen energy in all areas of life and industry such as our homes, workplaces and factories," Hyundai Group Chairman Euisun Chung said in an online forum.
"We want to offer practical solutions for the sustainable development of humanity, and with these breakthroughs, we aim to help foster a worldwide Hydrogen Society by 2040," he said.
Among the advances Hyundai targets is a next-generation fuel cell stack in 2023 that will slash costs while boosting efficiency, as well as a plan to apply fuel cell systems to all its commercial vehicles by 2028. Hyundai outlined plans for an autonomous hydrogen-powered "Trailer Drone." And it even dangled a fuel cell sports car concept that does 0-62 mph in under four seconds.
The hydrogen blitz reinforces Hyundai Motor Group's stance as one of only a handful of auto industry true believers in the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles. As much of the industry dives headlong into battery electrics, Hyundai is part of a smaller club, including the likes of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., that sees hydrogen as complementing pure EVs.
In making its pitch, Hyundai cited forecasts from the Hydrogen Council industry group predicting that hydrogen will account for 18 percent of the world's energy demand by 2050 and that popularizing hydrogen will help cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 6 billion tons a year.
Hydrogen plays an important role in Hyundai Motor Group's multipronged approach to cutting emissions, a strategy that also includes battery electrics and hybrids.
Hyundai launched the industry's first mass-produced fuel cell passenger vehicle, the Tucson Fuel Cell, in 2013 and currently offers the Nexo fuel cell crossover and Xcient Fuel Cell heavy truck. Last year, it launched a brand called HTWO to promote the use of the H2 hydrogen molecule in developing and promoting hydrogen fuel cell systems for various transportation applications.
Underpinning the new push will be a third-generation fuel cell system from Hyundai Motor Group that will be introduced from 2023. It will be smaller, more powerful and more durable.
The group previewed two variants of the new stack, a 100-kilowatt unit and a 200-kilowatt one.
Engineers shrunk the size of the 100-kilowatt stack by 30 percent. And although the 200-kilowatt stack is about the same size as the stack currently used in the Nexo, Hyundai said the new stack doubles the power output. The Nexo, by contrast, has a 95-kilowatt fuel cell stack.
The new stack is reconfigured as a "full-flat system" to condense its height to 25 centimeters (10 inches), thereby allowing more flexible use in a range of vehicles and new mobility gadgets.
Hyundai aims to boost the lifetime durability of the stacks to 500,000 kilometers (310,000 miles), up from about 160,000 kilometers (100,000 miles) for the second-generation stack launched in 2018.
And to help popularize the technology, Hyundai wants to slash the fuel cell price by more than half—as a step toward achieving price parity with battery electric vehicles by 2030.
First steps under Hydrogen Wave will plunge the company into commercial vehicles, which are deemed an efficient and practical first application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Because trucks run on established routes, over and over, they can guarantee consistent early business for costly hydrogen stations. Trucks make it possible to sell a lot of hydrogen in one place. And this creates a baked-in network to support passenger cars when they come to market.
The group will fully apply fuel cells across its commercial vehicle lineup by 2028. The electrification push, which will include battery electrics, will focus heavily on fuel cell systems for buses and heavy-duty trucks. Hyundai expects to be the first manufacturer to apply fuel cells to its entire range of commercial models.
One product arriving in 2023 will be a fuel cell tractor based on the Xcient truck system.
Key to the long-range rollout will be a so-called Trailer Drone concept, which uses a fuel cell-powered undercarriage modeled on railroad cars to support a trailer carrying goods. The underpinning is dubbed a fuel cell e-Bogie, and the Trailer Drone can use one at the front and one at the rear, giving the vehicle "unprecedented maneuverability" through sideways movements.
Hyundai envisions the Trailer Drone as being autonomous, with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles). They can also be linked together in "cluster mode" for platoon driving.
Hyundai Motor Group also teased a hydrogen fuel cell-powered hybrid sports car concept called the Vision FK.
It combines a hydrogen fuel cell energy converter with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. The rear-wheel drive car generates maximum output over 500 kilowatts, with a range of 600 kilometers (372 miles.) The company said it can cover 0-62 mph in less than four seconds.
Hyundai Motor Group paraded a fleet of other hydrogen and new mobility concepts:
Rescue Drone—A kind of mobile launching pad for flying drones that runs on the fuel cell e-Bogie. It has an independent steering system to crab walk over rough terrain. It is envisioned as having a range up to 500 kilometers (310 miles) and being able to operate autonomously.
H Moving Station—A mobile refueling station for fuel cell vehicles to combat range anxiety.
Rescue Hydrogen Generator Vehicle—An off-road emergency charger for EVs.
M.Vision Pop—An ultrasmall urban mobility electric vehicle equipped with in-place turning and crab-walking ability for tight parallel parking performance.
M.Vision 2Go—A near-range fuel cell delivery vehicle with a 30-kilowatt fuel cell battery pack.
Nexo Minicar—A fuel cell EV for children.
Elec City Bus—A fuel cell bus positioned to replace diesel fleets.
Fuel Cell Electric Tram—A tram system based on battery and fuel cell technology.
Hyundai Motor Group's ramp-up of hydrogen-based technologies comes as much of the auto industry—but not all—sidesteps fuel cells and stampedes toward full battery-electric vehicles.
Japanese rival Toyota, for instance, also wants to pursue hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Last month, Toyota said it will open a line at its plant in Georgetown, Ky., in 2023 to produce fuel cell modules for hydrogen-powered heavy-duty commercial trucks.
Honda also has a long history of working on future hydrogen technologies with General Motors. In Europe, German maker BMW also continues to dabble in hydrogen as a zero-emission pathway.