With oil prices going through the roof, following the
unsuccessful War on Weapons of Mass Destruction, fuel cells are back in the news
(we know the WMD’s are there somewhere, we just haven’t found them yet, but
after we bury some we’ll dig ‘em up again and show the world how clever we
Hyundai (HMC) are next in the fuel-cell vehicle push, and
claim they will have a fuel cell vehicle (FCV) on sale by 2010. What is more,
they will have a petrol-electric hybrid car available for commercial sale within
According to the GoAuto website, the senior vice-president of
Hyundai-Kia’s Advanced Technology Centre, Joon-Chul Park, said that both
hybrids and fuel cell vehicles were crucial elements in the South Korean
car-maker’s quest to become one of the five biggest auto manufacturers by
He said commercialization would be realized at the end of
each respective R&D program, which with the petrol-electric drive-train
focuses on the Getz small car and for fuel cells has switched in recent months
from the ageing Santa Fe to the all-new Tucson all-terrain wagon.
These platforms will change before hitting the streets, but
Park confirmed that a SUV (sports utility vehicle) platform would be used for
the first commercial fuel cell vehicle when the current Tucson program ends in
“The five years (from 2004) is our demonstration and
development period, so we’d have cars for commercial sale from 2010,” Park
told GoAuto at the Tucson’s launch in South Korea last month.
“The vehicle will change. The Tucson is the platform for
development for this first technology. At that time, we may choose a different
platform (but) we think SUV is the proper platform we ought to use at that time.
Packaging is the dominant issue. SUVs give us more space than other vehicles.”
Park said HMC had not set out to become the first car company
to offer mass-market fuel cell vehicles but was determined to run with leaders
in the field such as Toyota and Honda. “The fuel cell will be the future
power-train so somehow we have to stay with the development of fuel cell
technology,” he said.
Unveiled at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, the
front-drive Tucson FCV is HMC’s second generation zero-emissions vehicle built
in collaboration with American fuel cell giant United Technologies Corporation
It has several advantages over the previous Santa Fe FCV
including cold-weather starting, a higher-output fuel cell stack and an extended
driving range from the Dynetek developed hydrogen storage tank. Vehicle
durability and interior packaging (lower floor height) are also improved with
the stack relocated from the undercarriage to the traditional engine bay.
“Once we put the fuel cell stack under the floor, we became
worried about the damage that could happen when driving the vehicle on the
road,” Park said. “If it’s on the floor, naturally it’s more susceptible
to rust and those kinds of things, so we have put it in the engine bay to better
HMC also claims to have eliminated hesitation associated with
power being cut when the Santa Fe FCV is driven under hard acceleration, the
biggest sticking point to emerge at a 1000m straight-road drive given to
journalists at HMC’s Namyang R&D centre near Seoul.
“(Santa Fe) is operating between 160-270 voltage but
Tucson’s average voltage is more than 300V, so higher voltage gives us better
motor performance and some more room not to have that hesitation,” said
Hyundai-Kia principal research engineer (fuel cell), Tae Won Lim.
“The second reason is that in order to improve the fuel
cell durability, we have done so much research and development that Tucson’s
durability is three times longer than Santa Fe.”
The Tucson FCV will be tested in real-world conditions, with
at least 30 Tucson FCVs based in California over the next few years. The latter
could increase now that HMC, along with several other manufacturers, has secured
a slice of a USD 350 million US Government grant designed to get more FCV
prototypes onto American streets.
HMC claims it will spend USD 2.3 billion on R&D in 2004, almost double
its expenditure in 2001, which in addition to fuel cell and hybrid power trains
will be used for stand-alone internal combustion engine developments including a
forthcoming common-rail turbo-diesel that meets Euro 4 regulations.