When it comes to game-changing automotive technologies, we tend to think about the flashiest players in the field: Tesla’s drop-dead-gorgeous and whisper quiet electric sedan and Mercedes’ urea injected ultra-clean and ultra-efficient BlueTec diesel come to mind. The darling of many a movie star, Toyota’s work-a-day Prius is a well-executed example of the now common gas-electric hybrids on the road. But we don’t tend to talk about Korea’s leading automotive company, Hyundai, though their real-word pioneering work is arguably just as groundbreaking.
This is not a reflection of Hyundai’s expertise – they were making cars way before their venerable Pony became the last car in Canada under $10,000 25 years ago. Hyundai might not have the Silicon Valley flash of the Tesla, the old-world prestige of Carl Benz’s cars or the sheer clout of Toyota, the biggest car company in the world, but they do know a thing or two about screwing together some pretty decent transportation choices, including the flashy-as-anything-you-could-ever-want Equus and the excellent Sonata Hybrid. Enter the Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered Tucson FCEV SUV. The idea of a hydrogen fuel cell has been around for years, but too expensive to be practical. Part of the reason is the cost of the platinum plates required, but Hyundai claims that the cost has been reduced by 40% over the last 15 years. A Hydrogen Fuel Cell car is powered by electricity. Cars like the Tesla or Chevrolet’s Volt run off a battery, which stores electricity chemically, like the battery in your flashlight. The Fuel Cell in the Tucson FCEV generates electricity through electrolysis – it essentially strips the electron off the Hydrogen atom to generate electricity, and then the remaining proton combines with atmospheric oxygen to create water, which is the only emission related to the process. It’s an elegant-zero emissions solution to a perennial problem of rising fuel costs and environmental impacts. “Things are changing at Hyundai,” says Brooks Price, General Sales Manager of Aurora Hyundai, “and we’re excited at the idea that things are changing, that Hyundai wants to be ahead of the curve, not behind it. The mere fact that this car exists says a lot about our company and out commitment to R&D.” Physicists among you will know that an electric motor at a standstill has infinite torque, which falls off quickly once the motor starts to turn. In the real world this translates to serious off-the-line grunt. After about 45 km/h the car drives more or less like any other Tucson, except that it is totally silent, makes no emissions and has just one gear. It is a most practical, drivable car that is a real step forward in the evolution of the species, and it runs on the most common element there is, hydrogen. And therein lies the rub. Hydrogen might be the most abundant element in the universe, but getting it into your tank is still a little tricky – there are but a handful of fueling stations in North America, and just two in Ontario – one in Ottawa and one at the CNE grounds in Toronto. The majority of North American stations are in the most environmentally progressive states for now, namely California and the North East. Still, the one-million emissions-free kilometers from Tucson FCEV drivers across the continent is a milestone worth noting. In a recent Hyundai sponsored survey, 3 in 4 Canadians expressed an interest in driving such a car, and with good reason. As consumer demand increases, the political and economic will to make hydrogen fuel commonly available can’t be far away. It wasn’t long ago that diesel drivers had to plan their routes based on the availability of fuel, and now clean diesel is available at almost every pump. A journey of a million kilometers starts with the first one, and Hyundai has made a real contribution to the future of the driving.
Written by Aladin Jarrah