The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell: An Attractive Package (with Free Hydrogen)

Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell  /   /  By Jim Motavalli

The Hyundai Tucson was the first fuel-cell car out of the gate in the U.S., reaching its first customers in southern California (where there were at least seven operating hydrogen stations) in June 2014.

“My family is certainly excited to be doing their part in driving a zero-emission vehicle that benefits the environment, and at the same time, reduces our nation’s dependence on imported fuels.” said first leasee Tim Bush.

hyundai tucson fuel-cell car

The Tucson at the Washington Auto Show. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Since Bush got his keys, the 65 drivers who’ve taken delivery so far have surpassed 238,900 miles, which Hyundai is happy to tell you is the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

The 2015 Tucson has 265 miles of range between fill-ups, and leases for $499 a month (for 36 months, with $2,999 due at the signing). There’s no purchase option. The lease price includes all the hydrogen buyers can pump. That’s certainly an incentive to get in and drive. In the first 10 months, the cars averaged 4,000 miles.

Hyundai, citing a well-to-wheels greenhouse gas emission study from the University of California at Irvine, claims that fuel-cell cars “have the lowest overall emission levels of all alternative fuel entries.” See the chart below:

well-to-wheels analysis

Favorable well-to-wheel analysis, says Hyundai.

According to spokesman Derek Joyce, Hyundai is also taking care of what it calls At Your Service Valet Maintenance, every 6,500 miles. The service, done at your location, not the dealer, includes servicing the air cleaner, checking for leaks, adding fuel-cell stack coolant and de-ionizing the filter for the coolant (which gets replaced at 39,000 miles).

The Tucson is zero emission like a battery electric, producing only clean water vapor. It refuels in under 10 minutes, and drives much like an electric car, because there’s a 100-kilowatt electric motor with 134 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque under the hood. Maximum speed is 100 mph, and the Tucson reaches 62 mph in 12.5 seconds. The tank carries 5.63 kilograms of hydrogen, pressurized to 10,000 psi.

Delivered loaded, the Tucson comes with brake assist, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management and traction control. The car is mass-produced in Korea on the same assembly line as regular Tucsons.

First-time fuel-cell drivers who want to try out a Tucson can rent one at Enterprise-Rent-a-Car locations in the LA and Orange County areas. “From our perspective, the next area to conquer is northern California,” said Joyce. “We’re keeping our eye on the infrastructure there.”

Hyundai can produce 1,000 fuel-cell Tucsons through 2015. “How many we will actually build is dependent on infrastructure growth and demand,” Joyce said. “We’ve had a few sales in Europe, including small municipal fleets in Copenhagen.” The 2015 models are shortly to give way to 2016s. Joyce said there are some model year changes, but they haven’t been announced yet and are minor.

Things have been slow in Korea, which despite large ambitions has only a few operating hydrogen stations. To aid sales there, where the car is known as the ix35, Hyundai recently cut the price 43 percent, to $77,189. The original sales price was over $135,000. The picture should be brighter when Korea has, as projected, 200 stations by 2025.

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