This week’s “Tech Metals Insider” blog on KITCO News is featuring Hyundai, a brand that few people get excited about. Having started off as a manufacturer that followed the Japanese business model initially (inexpensive, reliable but bland cars), they are in the process of shaping their own identity now. At the International Auto Show in Frankfurt this September, my attention was drawn to Hyundai’s fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) which is based on their ix35 crossover SUV. While several other brands had made announcements about upcoming fuel cell vehicles, Hyundai was the only one present to actually have one. And not just that: it was a finished product, several of them serving as press shuttles to prove the point.
I now had a chance to follow up on my encounter by interviewing Frank Meijer, Team Leader FCEV and Infrastructure Development, at the company’s European headquarters in Offenbach, Germany. Mr. Meijer showed me a very detailed presentation on the company’s future plans for FCEV technology which I have posted here: FCEV Deployment 12-11-2013 if you are interested.
At the end of the interview, Mrs. Kerstin Mueller, the company’s Product Marketing Manager for FCEVs, surprised me by offering me the keys to one of their ix35 FCEV vehicles for a test drive. I couldn’t possibly have said “no”, of course, and I want to thank the folks at Hyundai once again for the opportunity.
So how was it? Shockingly normal, is the answer. Normal in a good way. Not only is the car very similar to its gasoline powered siblings, it also works without drama or the need to learn how to operate it. It’s plug and play, agile, roomy, quiet and relaxing like an EV should be, and at the end of the 20 minute test drive the fuel needle was still on “full”. So how does the experience differ from the battery-electric vehicles (the BMW ActiveE or the Tesla S / P85) I have driven? The Hyundai doesn’t accelerate nearly as well as those two which was to be expected. There is also much less “regen” upon deceleration meaning you can’t drive it with just the right pedal. If you are just converting from a regular car this will, I believe, make your transition easier as the driving experience is nearly the same. There is hardly any noise from the fuel cell, and apart from a short 10 second cooling cycle after turning it off you don’t even know it’s there. Trunk space is much improved thanks to the absence of battery packs which rounds off my initial statement.
After a little while, our conversation turned away from the car onto other things. Which, if you think of it, is a good thing. If you are not one of the pioneers or early adopters who enjoy playing with their car’s features for hours on end, if you are just buying the car for its environmental impact or (later) for cost reasons, then you’ll be a lot better off getting a less dramatic car, like the Hyundai ix35 FCEV. A car you’ll be able to refuel whenever you have to, just like in the old days when your car ran on gasoline.