Dedicated architecture and latest tech boost performance
Hyundai is doubling down on its investment in electric vehicles you can gas up at a pump and betting quite heavily on government and industry support of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure that remains—at least for the time being—pitifully meager and restricted primarily to California. The company plans to follow up its current Tucson FCEV with a completely new crossover boasting bespoke sheetmetal on a chassis tailored to the special needs of a fuel-cell electric vehicle.
As these are still comparatively early days on the steep part of the fuel-cell-technology learning curve, the as-yet unnamed new FCEV represents a fairly major leap in terms of performance and capability. Case in point: Its Tucson forebear featured a separate motor/drive unit and fuel cell stack, all packaged under the hood in front. But by integrating these components, the packaging volume drops by 18 percent, and the mass of the moving parts drops 14 percent. The system efficiency is up by 5.1 percent to an impressive 60.4 percent, and power density leaps by 50 percent to 3.1 kW/liter of packaging space. And that’s just under the hood.
Three new ballistic carbon-fiber-wrapped hydrogen storage tanks store 52.2 liters of hydrogen each and package more easily below the floor than did the Tucson’s two tanks, sized for 37 and 103 liters. This freed up room to move the battery out of the tunnel and back to the cargo area above the tanks. Operating pressure is unchanged at 700 bar (10,153 psi), but fuel-system mass drops from 281 to 245 pounds, improving the system tank mass efficiency (kilograms of hydrogen per kilogram of storage system weight) from 4.4 to 5.7 percent.
Besides being better packaged, the new electric motor switches from an induction type to a permanent-magnet type, with output jumping from 100 kW (134 hp) and 221 lb-ft to 120 kW (161 hp) and 291 lb-ft. Hyundai claims 0-60-mph times will drop from 12.5 to 9.0 seconds in a vehicle that’s larger but expected to weigh 4,000 pounds (our Tucson FCEV test car weighed 4,089 pounds and hit 60 in 11.3 seconds). Add up the improved performance, optimized weight, and next-gen hydrogen storage system, and the anticipated EPA range increases from the Tucson’s 265 miles to 350 or more, with combined mpg-e improving from 50 to 55.
Another quantum improvement achieved is in cold-start capability. The Tucson was rated for degrees below zero F and required 90 seconds from key-on to drive-away. The new FCEV can start at temperatures as low as below 22 degrees zero F, from which it takes just 30 seconds to thaw and hydrate the fuel-cell stack and get it producing electricity. Engineers think that operation at 40 degrees below zero F might be achievable, but refueling at such temperatures is impossible so developing to that (typical combustion-engine vehicle) temperature target might not be warranted. Hyundai engineers have also tortured the new FCEV by driving from the floor of Death Valley up Towne Pass in 127-degree weather, and they’ve proven out the centrifugal turbine type air compressor on the highest mountain passes in the lower-48 states. Furthermore the team is convinced that the new FCEV powertrain can match the durability of mainstream CUVs with minimal loss of capability over 10 years and 100,000 miles.
At a preview event held at Hyundai’s Michigan R&D center, a prototype vehicle was shown in heavy cladding but with a more or less undisguised interior. The seating package was generous, with sufficient shoulder room for three modest-sized adults abreast in the back. The cargo area also seemed competitive with conventional CUVs in this general size class. Up front a modern dash features bright high-resolution screens depicting all of the energy monitoring and efficiency coaching screens customers have come to expect in a new green-oriented vehicle. It also features a high center console reminiscent of those in a Porsche Panamera or Cayenne.
We remain bearish on hydrogen’s future as a transportation fuel, but if and when the infrastructure ever arrives, Hyundai certainly appears to be well positioned to capitalize on it.