By Aaron Bragman on November 21, 2013
Competes with: Toyota RAV4 EV
Looks like: Your average, ordinary, everyday Hyundai Tucson
Drivetrain: Electric motor making 221 pounds-feet of torque, powered by an onboard hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion battery
Hits dealerships: Spring 2014, Los Angeles and Orange, Calif., counties only
For years we have seen concept car after concept car powered by hydrogen fuel cells - electric cars that use onboard sources of electricity generated from hydrogen instead of from a land-based grid. But now Hyundai says it is ready to offer a production-ready fuel-cell electric vehicle to the public as early as next year.
The company has built the powertrain into its Tucson compact SUV and has announced that the car will be available for lease by anyone who wants one starting in spring of 2014. The catch: It will only be available in Southern California to residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties. The move is meant to tie into a recent multimillion-dollar push by the state of California to proliferate hydrogen fueling stations throughout the region. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario - it's hard to introduce a production fuel-cell car without a hydrogen infrastructure to fuel it, but if there aren't any fuel-cell cars available for consumers to buy, there's little call to develop that infrastructure.
Coordination seems to be finally jiving, however, with both fueling stations and cars arriving in the next two years. Hyundai's Tucson Fuel Cell looks and feels like a regular gas-powered Tucson; visually it's almost identical. The addition of the large hydrogen fuel tank and fuel-cell stack has not impacted interior room either.
Hyundai says that it drives similarly as well, with its electric motor producing 221 pounds-feet of torque, all available right off the line for brisk acceleration. The onboard storage tank should hold enough hydrogen to enable the Tucson to go 300 miles between fill-ups, and new filling technology will bring time to refuel to less than 10 minutes.
The Tucson Fuel Cell will be available only for lease from four Hyundai dealers in the L.A./Orange County area for $2,999 down and $499 a month for 36 months. Hyundai did not specify mileage restrictions, but did state that every lease will come with a new facet to the Hyundai Assurance customer care program: free hydrogen fueling for the life of the lease. Production starts at the company's plant in South Korea in February of next year, with vehicles arriving at dealerships shortly thereafter.
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron