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Hyundai revs up fuel-cell plan as battery technology disappoints

Reuters) – Hyundai Motor, which has lagged its rivals in battery-powered electric cars, aims to leapfrog that technology and roll out what it calls the world’s first production fuel-cell electric vehicles at this week’s Paris auto show.

The South Korean automaker is betting that fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be a more realistic future auto technology than pure battery electric cars such as Nissan Motor’s Leaf.

Those models have struggled to win over drivers as the batteries are expensive, take hours to recharge and can only drive short distances. Toyota Motor this week scaled back plans for its all-electric eQ minicar, saying it misread the market.

A fuel-cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into water and generating power to drive an electric motor. Fuel-cell vehicles can run five times longer than battery electric cars on a single power-up, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen, compared with 8 hours or so to recharge a battery.

Hyundai, which has watched Toyota make the running with its hybrid Prius model, wants to jump ahead in the fuel-cell market.

But it will offer just 1,000 FCEVs, based on its Tucson crossover, from December through to 2015 in Europe as it looks to more than halve production costs to 50 million won ($44,700).

Trade media have put the initial sticker price at around $88,000, a hefty price tag for a brand that made its name with cheaper, feature-filled models.

While fuel-cell electric cars may go further, manufacturers still have to wrestle with the high cost of production – double or triple that of battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) – and a lack of refueling infrastructure.

“We aim to reduce prices of fuel-cell vehicles to match battery cars by 2020-25,” Lim Tae-won, the director in charge of fuel-cell research at Hyundai and its affiliate Kia Motors, told Reuters ahead of the Paris auto show.

He said fuel-cell cars would overcome the “range anxiety” – or fear of running out of power far from a charging point – of battery-electric cars if the refueling issue was resolved.


A 2008 McKinsey study of 11 global carmakers predicted as many as 1 million fuel-cell electric cars on Europe’s roads by the end of the decade, but industry experts caution demand will depend on customer acceptance of the technology, government aid and, crucially, the availability of hydrogen filling stations.


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