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Hyundai is readying a hydrogen fuel cell/electric crossover for a U.S. debut next year, joining a cadre of automakers that see renewed promise in the economic viability of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Kwon Moon-sik, Hyundai Motor Group's president of research and development, discussed the plans during a recent media event in South Korea, saying that cost factors are pointing the company toward electric vehicles powered by hydrogen rather than batteries, where several automakers say the potential for economies of scale are drying up.
"There is no problem with the technology -- only with the cost and profitability," Kwon said of battery EVs. "We cannot make a profit with them." Are they shifting away from lithium ion too soon?
Kwon says that the advanced lithium ion batteries used in modern electric cars remain expensive, and few opportunities for cost reductions are on the horizon.
On the other hand, he said, hydrogen fuel cells offer more hope for volume savings.
Kwon's comments highlight the global auto industry's increased attention to hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles, whose only waste product is water.
Along with Hyundai, automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Daimler, General Motors, Ford and Nissan plan to begin putting more hydrogen vehicles on the road between 2015 and 2020, and some have echoed Hyundai's statements about the potential for falling costs, AutomotiveNews.com reports.
In July, GM and Honda joined forces to develop a common fuel cell system in time for 2020, to reduce development costs for the technology and to consolidate their component supply base to help make the pricey powertrains more affordable.
Toyota says its fuel cell vehicle debuting in 2015 will cost the company about $50,000 to produce -- down from $1 million per unit as recently as 2007 -- largely due to manufacturing efficiencies gained by building 5,000 to 10,000 units annually.
By 2020, Toyota predicts, fuel cell production costs will fall by half again.
In addition to the Honda-GM partnership, Nissan, Daimler and Ford Motor Co. in January announced a joint venture to bring fuel cell vehicles to market as early as 2017.
For now, Hyundai is working alone and starting small. The automaker began producing a version of its Tucson compact crossover powered by a hydrogen fuel cell on a line at its sprawling factory in Ulsan, South Korea, last year, with plans to produce 1,000 units for sale globally by 2015.
The big challenge facing the adoption of hydrogen-powered cars is the lack of refueling stations. California, which has had some of the nation's strictest mandates for zero-emission vehicles, is trying to address that with a plan to open 68 more stations by 2015.
This is where government spending to assist infrastructure development may need to precede consumer demand in order to facilitate interest and purchases by the 'early adapters'. Will you be one of them?