Despite the South Korean firm having become something of an automotive darling in recent years, most people would still admit frankly that they’d be far more likely to salivate over an Audi than they would a Hyundai. For pockets deep enough, the Q7 versus Santa Fe debate would be over as swiftly and conclusively as Russian or Turkish elections. Still, while Audi is associated with fancy Quattro traction and nifty MMI Touch functionality, Hyundai has got to be massively respected for sticking to its guns in pioneering a certain fuel that other manufacturers apart from Toyota seem hesitant to get involved with to any great extent – hydrogen.
While the latest breed of electric cars can only manage mileage ranges of up to 335 miles, this distance requiring a premium brand Tesla Model S or X which takes an entire painstaking night to recharge if plugged in at home or 30 minutes using one of the firm’s patchily-positioned superchargers, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles can do much better – and although the Toyota Mirai wants a slice of the action, Hyundai has long led the way.
The Koreans’ current ix35 fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) has a driving range a whisker short of 370 miles and, more relevantly, can be refuelled in a matter of minutes just like a petrol or diesel combustion engine car can. If that seems impressive, its replacement called the Nexo that is due in the UK in early 2019 will boast an incredible range of over 500 miles combined with the latest SUV styling everyone craves for.
Hydrogen technology is unsurprisingly getting better and better, leaks no longer a worry, but there’s admittedly a not insignificant downside. Essentially, partly perhaps because of traditional fuel companies worrying about their future profit models, plus maybe a sprinkling of self-centred apathy from the government that clearly has an electric car agenda, there’s simply no real hydrogen vehicle infrastructure in the UK. In a way that conjures up memories of our week with a Tesla Model S in which we had to trek from Oldham to Warrington to use the supercharger, which felt quite counterintuitive, FCV drivers are limited to a concentration of stations around London plus a peppering of locations in Sheffield, Birmingham, Oxford and other cities. It’s hardly as convenient as the handful of miles most of us have to drive to find the nearest filling station with familiar black and green nozzles.
We’ve wished for a long time that car manufacturers would start taking hydrogen more seriously and, well, it seems they now are. Hallelujah. What’s more, the latest news sees two quite unlikely firms jumping in the sack – Hyundai and, somewhat surprisingly, Audi. Yes, the fifth-largest vehicle-making group is joining forces with one of Germany’s top three premium brands which is itself obviously owned by Volkswagen.
The agreement, which is currently sat in the relevant regulatory body’s in-tray, is of a patent cross-licensing nature and will span an undisclosed number of years, so won’t be a flash in the pan. In terms of who comes out of the announcement as the perceived winner, we reckon it’s Hyundai. Despite its own respected size, it’s quite a coup for the mighty Volkswagen to acknowledge the Korean firm’s leading knowledge and expertise in hydrogen fuel cell powertrain development. Mutual access to fuel cell components will be a key facet as they seek to leverage their R&D capabilities and share supply chains.
Although Audi’s hottest news has got to be the Q8 SUV that will boast plug-in technology and even spawn a range-topping 670bhp RS Q8 based on a hybrid V8 powertrain, and while the more imminently-arriving fully-electric e-tron Quattro SUV will whip up a load of sales and lease deals, it’s encouraging and exciting to read quotes like this coming from Audi documenting their enthusiasm for hydrogen:
“The fuel cell is the most systematic form of electric driving and thus a potent asset in our technology portfolio for the emission-free premium mobility of the future” – Peter Mertens, Board Member for Technical Development at AUDI AG.
Audi concedes in its press announcement that the establishment of a sufficient infrastructure will be a core step on the road to the future success of the fuel-cell vehicle market, but they excitingly reveal that they’re working on a premium sports-focussed SUV powered by hydrogen. The German luxury marque has dabbled in such powertrains for the last fourteen years in actual fact, starting with the Audi A2H2 in 2004 and peaking with the A7 Sportback h-tron in 2014, but their tinkering has been on a much more modest scale than Hyundai’s.
We believe that joining forces is a sensible strategy making use of economies of scale and countering the sheer insensibility of two or more car manufacturers pouring millions into the billions of pounds of investment into achieving the same aim. Okay, every firm has to protect and grow its profits and market share, but the environment and public health are too important to play second fiddle to traditional business strategies.
If combining the superior expertise of Hyundai’s boffins with the marketing might of a cool, aspirational brand like VW Group-backed Audi to accelerate the development of a green, useable fuel along with its all-important infrastructure doesn’t get governments around the world sitting up and taking hydrogen seriously, we’re not sure what will.
Hyundai deserves a doffing of our hat when it comes to its commitment to and perseverance in developing ever-improving hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle technology and we really hope this partnership relatively soon results in positive things for the car industry, the environment and society as a whole.
Until then, our team can almost certainly source a Hyundai ix35 FCV or Toyota Mirai for any fleet managers or private individuals who are seriously interested, or provide more typical advice on the batch of ‘mild’ hybrids being introduced from makes including Audi.