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Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles make some noise at LA Auto Show


November 23, 2013

The FCEV Concept at the LA Auto Show

The FCEV Concept at the LA Auto Show

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Fuel cells have long been lurking around in the shadows of the automotive world, promising great things but without much real-world availability to deliver them. At this week's LA Auto Show, they took some small but sure steps into the light, as both Honda and Hyundai shared their respective visions for the future of fuel cell automobiles. These debuts have people talking a little more about hydrogen-fueled electric driving.

Honda FCEV Concept

As promised, Honda introduced the FCEV Concept in LA, and as the teaser hinted, it's a much bolder design than the current-generation FCX Clarity. We don't expect the eventual production fuel cell vehicle to look identical to the FCEV, but American Honda Motor Co. president and CEO Tetsuo Iwamura does promise that the concept "points toward a very real future." The "ultra-aerodynamic body" is formed by such elements as large air intakes around the face and covered rear wheels.

Though Honda describes the car as a look at a "potential styling direction," for the future fuel cell car, the company is devoting its time to detailing the powertrain layout. The production model that the FCEV inspires will feature the world's first fuel cell powertrain packaged entirely in the engine area. Not only will this open up more cabin space, it will allow Honda to apply the fuel cell driveline to multiple vehicle formats, should it decide to do so. Thanks to this powertrain, the FCEV Concept's cabin seats five, an increase from the four seats in the FCX Clarity.

The decreased powertrain footprint is made possible by a fuel cell stack with a 60 percent higher power density over the FCX Clarity. Honda shrinks the stack by a third while still providing output of 100 kW (134 hp). It anticipates its next-generation production fuel cell vehicle offering a driving range of more than 300 miles (483 km) and a refueling time of about three minutes.

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell doesn't look nearly as wild as the Honda FCEV, and that's because it's a closer-to-production fuel cell vehicle that will make it to the US market next (Northern Hemisphere) Spring. The new car is based on the ix35 Fuel Cell, which launched in European markets earlier this year, and will be offered in the US as a 36-month, US$499/mo lease ($2,999 down). Hyundai calls it the "world's first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle," but availability will still be very limited, with an initial debut at but a handful of southern California Hyundai dealerships.

"Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles represent the next generation of zero-emission vehicle technology, so we’re thrilled to be a leader in offering the mass-produced, federally certified Tucson Fuel Cell to retail customers," says John Krafcik, president and chief executive officer, Hyundai Motor America.

"The superior range and fast-fill refueling speed of our Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle contrast with the lower range and slow-charge characteristics of competing battery electric vehicles. We think fuel cell technology will increase the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits."

Hyundai estimates that the Tucson Fuel Cell will drive for up to 300 miles (480 km) before requiring hydrogen refueling, which is well above the around 100-mile (160-km) estimates of most current battery-powered electrics. When it is time for that refueling, it will take less than 10 minutes.

Although Hyundai is keen to tout the advantages of fuel cell vehicles, it is holding off on providing detailed specifications about the vehicle's powertrain. The company does say that it offers 221 lb-ft of instantaneous torque, a spec it shares with the ix35, so we're inclined to believe that it uses the same 134-hp motor. The ix35 Fuel Cell powers that motor with a 24-kW lithium-polymer storage battery and a 100-kW fuel cell fed by dual hydrogen tanks.

Hyundai will begin production of the Tucson Fuel Cell at its plant in Ulsan, South Korea in February. To help entice early adopters, it is offering the same At Your Service Valet Maintenance program as on the Equus, along with unlimited free hydrogen.

"When we spoke to customers interested in driving a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, many wondered what the cost of hydrogen would be," explains Krafcik. "To ease those concerns as we build-out the hydrogen refueling network, we thought covering this cost for these early adopters in the monthly payment was the best approach, and consistent with other aspects of our Hyundai Assurance program."

Interested parties that still aren't ready to pull the trigger will have the option of a trial. Hyundai is working with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to offer Tucson Fuel Cell rentals at select Los Angeles/Orange County locations beginning next Spring.

Source: Honda, Hyundai

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

It is a shame that generating free hydrogen is so ludicrously expensive and lets not forget the high cost of concentrating into an almost practical density. Then there is the entirely new infrastructure to build. What were converting to hydrogen to do again?


i'm very skeptical of this new approach. many of the car companies appear hopeful though. i think it would make more sense to have a charger in the floor and a battery vehicle with good range. you just pull in at home and the car charges automagically. no more stops at fueling stations except for long trips.


New Silcon Nickle hydrogen / oxygen water splitting catalyst whereupon lasts for ages has now been discovered and thus the hydrogen fuel age has arrived. Good work and well done all you hydrogen tech developers.

Ken Pedlar

What concerns me about this is that car companies will look to perpetuate the stranglehold of big oil companies - who else has the distribution network to provide liquid hydrogen at geographically diverse locations?

What would be better for society would be rapid chargeable cars which could just be plugged into any electricity outlet.


Why make hydrogen and use it all in a fuel cell? Split the water in the garage and save a little hydrogen to combine with some of that oxygen to run a generator in the car to split more water for extra range. As an alternative, some countries' cars use a 2nd storage unit with LPG or CNG - Liquified Petroleum Gas or Compressed Natural Gas - to run normal I/C engines, starting on petrol for a few seconds and then switching over seamlessly to the other fuel system. .Takes virtually the same time to 'fill' the car's 2nd tank, mileage is good, service stations need a less engineered storage tank and there you are!

The Skud

There is much development in making hydrogen and fuel cells less expensive. With the only exhaust being water vapor, it is - IMO - greener way to get around. Now - with these fuel cell vehicles - a cooler way to get around.


The BMW I3 has a 25kW range extender - why would a fuel cell need to be 100kW. Surely the price would go down with a fuel cell at 50kW or lower. Both the I3 and the Hyundai use the battery pack for acceleration so not that much is needed for constant speed.

Alexander Engman

So irksome that I have to wait at the bus stop while cars are driving by blowing nasty exhaust gases in my face. Not with this car!

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret

What happened to methane fuel cells - there is existing infrastructure with gas already being available at some garages and methane can be produced as an off gas from decomposing wastes - so no expensive hydrogen generation - okay generates co2 but this is still a lot less polluting than the methane being used - I guess it all about that zero emissions - still wonder when you balance the Hydrogen production which is lower.


I will say I am fanatic for hydrogen fuel cells technology, the problem is how to get very easy and cheap hydrogen, there is one way: the US has now so much and cheap natural gas which can be splited in 4 molecules of hydrogen and one molecule carbon as carbon black by product wich can be used for the fuel cells manufacturing. The spliting process is with a vacum plasma reactor or microwave plasma reactor which the NG (H4C) is converted in 2H2 + C, this process is cheap, so there we can get a very cheap hydrogen without a complicated hydrogen stations, becouse in this stations will have a reactor, a hydrogen compresor and a carbon black changeable container, the electricity power will get with a own hydrogen fuel cell.

Esteban Sperber Frankel

For all this complex technology, it seems the Chinese electric bullet trains provide a great deal of very inexpensive transportation?

Bruce Miller

I would really appreciate a drag coefficient instead of the hype. And curb weight would be nice.

Very sexy. And free hydrogen? Sounds too good to be true.

Don Duncan

Hydrogen is produced by reforming methane. Methane is produced by fracking - the injection of toxic chemicals into the ground, both polluting and ruining our aquifers. Hydrogen is no longer a clean fuel, it's the nastiest fuel on the planet based on its source (which is NOT hydrolysis). Put an end to this fossil fuel- driven madness.

Frankly, I'd rather have coal, than fracking-derived hydrogen.


Fuel Cells are just another way to control the price of Fuel for transportation. Whether it is gas or hydrogen it will be controlled by oil companies and sold to consumers at inflated prices. Oil companies will do anything to prevent the rise of the electric car and they will loose the battle. Tesla has proven the superiority of the electric car and battery development is progressing rapidly, the end of the ICE is in sight!

Jerry Peavy

I'm with a few others here, and in particular with the comment above that the hydrogen production itself needs to be clean and efficient. I guess as long as its being produced from electrolysis, and that electricity is being produced from solar, wind or some similar method that it wouldn't be so bad. Then I have to wonder what byproduct there is from the fuel cells themselves. Because if its water vapor my understanding is that is almost as bad of a greenhouse gas as co2.


Why not use methane to produce hydrogen and diamond? Use the hydrogen in the hydrogen fuel cells and sell the diamond (which comes as a byproduct) to the electronic industry to produce high power, high frequency electronic components and. This way we also store the carbon in a convenient form, to avoid the greenhouse effect.


Firstly, Not everyone in the world has a driveway. Not everyone in the world has the ability to charge a car at home.

The reality is, sure you and people who commute to cities might be able to park in your drive and charge, but this is not an option for the majority of people.

Most of the people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. India and china have regular blackouts. UK can have blackouts during the world cup if too many people turn their kettles on together.

Do you really think America, or UK, or Germany have the ability to power hundreds of millions of cars getting home from rush hour? It's just a nonsense solution.

As for water vapor being the biggest green house gas? sure it is, clouds.. Human activity with water has nothing but a local effect and you cant warm or cool the earth by spraying water out your window lol.

Put simply, we need a way to collect and store huge amounts of energy so that our system wont crash with huge demand. Germany and other countries want to shut down nuclear plants, how can they provide electricity for so many cars?

Hydrogen can be collected in a few ways as a waste product, it can also be generated with solar electricity, or wind electricity. There are novel ways of producing it if you wish to at home, but the petrol/hydrogen station will use electricity at off peak times to make their hydrogen and import some if demand is too high. Its not like there is a patent on the production of hydrogen owned by the oil companies.

Hydrogen can be used by any country that already has cars. Not every country can use battery cars, they just dont have the electricity to spare.


Plug in cars are great, but most city dwellers live in apartment blocks which means there's no way to plug in a car (and I don't see apartment block owners installing loads of charging points in their basement car parks any time soon either).

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