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Hyundai puts its hydrogen development program on hiatus

Hydrogen technology has arguably lost one of its biggest and most vocal proponents, at least for now. Citing a long list of barriers, Hyundai allegedly stopped developing the hydro-electric powertrain that it planned to fit into some of its cars (including Genesis model) in the coming years.

Anonymous source told Korean Publications Chosunbiz that the executives pulled the emergency brake after analyzing the results of a feasibility study. Nothing is official at this point and the report emphasizes that the pause is temporary. However, the reported problems discovered were relatively serious: they included unspecified technical problems and lack of marketability partly due to cost-related concerns.

This news is surprising because Hyundai has invested a lot of resources in production hydrogen a viable alternative to gasoline without many of the inconveniences associated with electric vehicles, such as long charging times and limited driving range. It is one of the few automakers in the world that sells hydrogen-powered cars (Nexo; pictured), and they have announced plans to produce about 130,000 hydrogen-powered cars annually by 2025. And yet, the Nexo is selling well, even in hydrogen-friendly markets like South Korea; 8,206 units were sold there until November 2021. Concept Vision FK 671 hp previously launched in 2021 will likely remain at the prototype stage.

Interestingly, a separate unverified report claims that Hyundai has also shut down its engine development division. If both are correct, it means that the Hyundai corporation (including That and Genesis) will exclusively develop electric powertrains starting in the near future.

Several auto companies have tried to make hydrogen cars popular over the past decade, and most have failed. Some of the problems facing the technology include a lack of charging infrastructure and governments’ focus on electric vehicles. According to the US Department of Energy, there are 48 hydrogen charging stations in the US, and 47 of them are located in California. While that’s great news for Californians, it renders the Nexo completely useless for people driving from Salt Lake City to Seattle.

However, some manufacturers still believe that hydro-electric powertrains have a future. BMW car and Toyota notably are working together to reap the benefits of economies of scale. BMW car will start building a few run on hydrogen X5s in 2022, though it’s too early to tell if this model will go on sale in the United States. Toyota is experimenting with hydrogen combustion engine (rather than a system based on fuel cells to convert hydrogen into electricity), and Lexus built parts a side-by-side hydrogen-powered luxury test in December 2021.

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