Silent, emissions-free motoring without the lengthy charging times? No, it’s not witchcraft powering the Hyundai Nexo, but hydrogen. Shame it’s not for sale here
It’s long been the major stumbling block with electric vehicles: cutting down on emissions and pollution – the raison d’etre for EVs – is a noble ideal to work towards, but real-world drivers will never truly be at ease with the issue of range anxiety and the lengthy amount of time required to charge it up.
The question then, of what will power our cars in future, is an open one. But on paper at least, one of the most desirable solutions is hydrogen; it combines the long range and quick refuelling times of internal combustion engines with the cleanliness of electric vehicles. The only reason this technology isn’t more popular is the difficulty in extracting hydrogen to use as a fuel source.
In any case, hydrogen is what powers the Hyundai Nexo fuel cell vehicle (FCV), which Komoco Motors brought to Singapore for a showcase at the Grand Hyatt hotel recently.
Unfortunately, the car is not available in Singapore, but it is on sale in limited markets, namely in South Korea, Europe, and the United States.
Fuel cell technology may seem like a world away, but it’s actually production-ready: Hyundai says it’s ready to sell the Nexo in any location with a hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in place.
The Nexo looks every bit a regular family SUV. It’s based on a dedicated platform (Hyundai’s previous FCV was based on the Tucson/ix35), which allows for a more efficient use of space.
This means less compromises are required of weight, performance, and cabin room in order to accomodate the fuel cell, batteries and hydrogen tanks, although the Nexo is still a large car; at 4,670mm long and 1,860mm wide, it’s only slightly smaller than the Santa Fe, Hyundai’s seven-seat family SUV.
Under the bonnet sits a fuel cell stack which generates electricity from hydrogen, which is then used to power an electric motor. Outputs of 120kW (161hp) and 394Nm of torque give the 1.8-tonne Nexo a 0-100km/h time of 9.5 seconds. Not amazing figures, but on par with regular battery EVs, and more than sufficient for everyday driving.
Meanwhile, the three tanks at the back can hold up to 156 litres of hydrogen (and can be refilled in five minutes), which Hyundai estimates will give a real-world range of about 600km, about 100km more than even a Tesla Model S, and twice what the Ioniq Electric can manage.
While the fuel cell technology is impressive, the lack of a hydrogen network here means the Nexo will be of little relevance to the average Singaporean car buyer. But what will be of more interest are the tech features the Nexo also showcases, which will probably trickle down to Hyundai’s mainstream models.
First up is Blind-spot View Monitor, an extension of current blind spot monitoring tech. When you signal to change lane, the feed from either of two rear view cameras mounted under the wing mirrors will pop up on the driver’s instrument screen, allowing you to be absolutely sure there’s nothing hiding in your blind spot. A similar system is also available in the new Lexus ES, albeit only in its home market of Japan.
There’s also Remote Smart Parking Assist, which can autonomously park a car (and exit the lot) whether or not a driver is in the car, as well as Lane Following Assist and Highway Driving Assist, which can semi-autonomously drive itself down the road at up to 150km/h.
It may seem a slightly peculiar choice for Hyundai to go down the FCV route, considering it already has the Ioniq EV and Hybrid, with an EV version of the Kona shortly to follow. But the company has actually been involved with fuel cell research since 1998, and the ix35 FCV, launched in 2013, was actually the first such vehicle to go on public sale (preceding efforts by companies like Honda and Mercedes-Benz were only offered on a lease basis). That said, the Nexo does face a major competitor in the form of the Toyota Mirai, which we drove last year in Japan.
Since nobody knows exactly how our cars will be propelled in future (Fossil fuels? EV? Hydrogen? Or different solutions for different applications?), this multi-pronged strategy is all part of Hyundai’s plan to hedge its bets, so that it will have something to offer whatever wins out. To that end, the company says the Nexo is the one that will spearhead Hyundai Motor Group’s commitment to introduce 18 eco-friendly models to global markets by 2025.