We salute Hyundai for bringing pioneering technology to the masses – but there are a few elephants in the room…
It may not look it, but the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell will go down in motoring history as the world’s first mass produced hydrogen fuel cell car – arguably the future of motoring.
However, there are a few elephants in the room (we’ll come to those later), but for now let’s allow Hyundai to bask in their zero emission glory.
Hyundai’s FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) is equipped with a 100kW electric motor which is powered by a 24kwh battery. This in turn is charged by a fuel cell stack under the bonnet which converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, while emitting nothing but water vapour and heat.
In theory this combination gives the car a range of 369 miles on a single fill of liquid hydrogen, the tanks for which are stored beneath the boot.
In effect, the ix35 Fuel Cell is the same as driving an electric car except that the its batteries are charged on the go by the hydrogen fuel cell. In other words, the hydrogen tanks needs filling, much like regular petrol or diesel. And while rapid charging of an electric vehicle takes a minimum of 30 minutes (6 hours using the normal charging process), it only takes 3 minutes to fully fuel the ix35.
What’s it like?
At first glance, the ix35 Fuel Cell looks pretty much the same as the standard ix35 – a Nissan Qashqai SUV rival which is already a fairly similar sight on our roads.
Look a little closer and there are a few differences. The front grille is deeper and it features a blue-tinged badge, while the dashboard is dominated by two large dials – one with speed and fuel levels, the other indicating charge and power (ie whether you’re using energy or recouping it through regenerative braking).
Open the boot and there’s slightly less space – 436 litres compared to 591 on the regular ix35. This is because two hydrogen storage tanks are stored underneath, which brings me neatly to the first elephant in the room. Safety.
The reality is that Hyundai has gone the extra mile, so to speak, to ensure that this new technology is safe. Sadly, many people still associate hydrogen fuel with airship disasters of the 1930s.
The fact is that hydrogen has been used in industry and space exploration for nearly 50 years and it has an excellent safety record.
Hyundai says the ix35 Fuel Cell has undergone extensive safety testing including multiple crash test procedures and vehicle strength assessments. In addition the ix35 Fuel Cell is equipped with a number of safety features including intelligent sensors to detect anomalies and safety valves to shut off the hydrogen in the event of a collision.
Is it a game-changer?
Whilst we’re talking elephants in the room, let’s deal with another two.
The ix35 Fuel Cell is first to market, but here in the UK it is only available in left hand drive and this situation won’t change until Hyundai’s next generation FCEV arrives in a couple of years. Sadly this is a deal-breaker for many UK motorists – though, in reality, you soon get used to it. Perhaps the biggest LHD issue is when it comes to overtaking, though – if I’m honest – I don’t think buyers of ix35s will be doing too much of that anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not slow (for the record, it’s capable of 0-62mpg in 12.5 seconds and has a top speed of 99mph) – it’s just that buyers of the ix35 Fuel Cell are more likely to be chasing economy records than speed records.
The car actually drives well. It feels a little heavy and it wallows a bit, but it will get you from A to B smoothly and silently with zero emissions, and it will manage perfectly well on motorways too.
Now for elephant No 3 – price. The ix35 will cost a hefty £53,105. Early adopters with a stack of cash to spare or those looking for a little green exclusivity might go for it, but I’d need to work thoroughly out the running costs, wouldn’t you?
However, there’s one final, but enormous, elephant in the room – the UK hydrogen refuelling infrastucture is in its infancy. There are only a handful of refuelling stations in the country (mostly in the south east). In fact, there only one proper publicly accessible service station for the moment, and that’s at Sainsbury’s in Hendon, NW London.
The government has pledged a £6.6 million investment in hydrogen infrastructure and there are plans to expand the hydrogen refueling network to around 80 locations by 2020, so there’s no doubt that this technology will take off. It’s just a matter of time.
Later this year Toyota launches its own FCEV, the Mirai (which is selling like hotcakes in Japan), while Honda’s also working on a fuel cell car and other big manufacturers are also known to be developing FCEVs.
Summary: Hyundai deserves a huge pat on the back for being first to market. Unfortunately, the hydrogen refuelling restructure is limited (for now) and the ix35 itself is too compromised to be a big sales success.