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For 2015, hydrogen is the new electric. Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda are each debuting their first commercially-viable fuel cell cars over the next two years. Hyundai’s entry in the segment is a new version of its Tucson SUV, which is powered by fuel cells that create electricity from hydrogen. Built on the same structure and in the same factory as the gas-powered Tucson, it allows Hyundai to cut costs. Still, the automaker is projecting it to cost $52,000 when it hits dealerships, more than double the cost of today’s base Tucson.
Hyundai says the fuel cell Tucson will come with a 100-cell stack, using a lithium-polymer battery, and will have a tank capacity of 12 pounds of hydrogen. Four driving modes help drivers maximize the car's capabilities in different circumstances. In fuel cell mode, the car runs only on hydrogen propulsion, while in assist mode, the electric battery helps out the fuel cell during heavy loads. The battery can be recharged in two ways: through the fuel cell or through the electric motor when the car is braking.
Of course, the fuel cell car will be sold in small quantities, as Hyundai expects just 1,000 of them to be distributed globally by 2015. After this, Hyundai hopes to slowly expand and cut costs dramatically. But for now, the fuel cell Hyundai Tucson will remain a platform for the automaker to expand its endeavors in this new arena of green technology.
The good thing about this car is it shares many characteristics with gas-powered cars. Range is estimated at 369 miles for one tank, making it a more viable alternative than electric cars for long distance travelers. Refilling the tank takes minutes, adding to the convenience of this car. Fuel economy is estimated at 71 mpg, and the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is water.
Who’s It For
This is all well and good, but there are significant drawbacks that will make this car inaccessible to the majority of buyers. Very few public hydrogen stations exist across the country (10 as of this writing). Although more are expected to roll out in the coming years, hydrogen refueling will likely be impossible for many people, particularly those consumers outside of California where the stations are centered. It will likely be popular among fleet buyers and those who have special access to the fuel. Green companies and those who are willing to test out this new technology, and pay a hefty price premium, will likely be among the first users.
The fuel cell Hyundai Tucson is expected to deliver similar interior features as the conventionally powered Tucson. More details will soon be released.
What We Think
Hyundai says it has done significant testing on the Tucson fuel cell to make sure it works in real world driving situations. We commend Hyundai's tremendous progress in this new area. Still, the car is largely an experimental vehicle and is only expected to sell in limited volumes. We would recommend most consumers wait on this technology for now until prices go down and there are enough fueling stations to render it practical.
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