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THEY WERE a Pacific Ocean apart, but the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show and 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, both held November 22-December 1, shared world introductions of fuel cell cars coming into production in 2015.
Honda, Hyundai and Toyota displayed this advanced propulsion technology, each offering a next layer of technical details.
Hyundai claims to be the first automaker with a fuel-cell vehicle in the U.S. mass market. The key words here are “mass market,” in that Honda has already had a small number of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell cars in a lease demonstration program since 2008.
By contrast, Hyundai says it plans to bring at least 1000 ix35 Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles to the U.S. through 2016. Beginning in spring 2014, four California dealerships will offer lease programs for $2999 down and 36 months at $499/month. Complete maintenance and unlimited hydrogen fuel are included in the 36-month lease.
Hyundai is targeting southern California, specifically Los Angeles and Orange Counties because California has been most accommodating in its plans for a hydrogen infrastructure. Over the next few years, California plans to have 100 public hydrogen fueling stations. Prototypes of these exist already; one of Orange County’s Shell stations has hydrogen available 24/7; the University of California Irvine has another station in operation at this time.
The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell’s electric motor is rated at 134 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque. The car has a range of around 300 miles and can be refueled in minutes (in contrast to battery electric recharge times in hours).
Its onboard storage at 10,000 psi is capable of holding 12.3 lb. of hydrogen in compressed gaseous form. This is energy-equivalent to around 6.7 gal. of gasoline, but with fuel-cell propulsion being 2.4 times as efficient. Two tanks are used, a small one under the rear passenger compartment, a large one beneath the crossover’s cargo area.
The Toyota FCV shown at Tokyo is expected to be very close to the production version going on-sale in Japan in 2015 and coming to the U.S. a year later. The car, slightly larger than a Toyota Corolla, has a wheelbase of 109.4 in.
The FCV’s fuel-cell stacks are beneath the front seats. The main compressed hydrogen tank resides under the passenger compartment; another smaller tank is beneath the trunk.
Toyota talks about the FCV’s shape evoking the idea of flowing water. I’d guess its ample grille openings, center, left and right, are functional as well: Fuel-cell stacks require careful control of their temperature and humidity.
The company boasts that power density of these stacks is 3 kW/liter, more than twice that of the Toyota FCHV-adv. To put all these in perspective, in 2007 I co-drove pre-adv FCHVs from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Vancouver, British Columbia, a distance of more than 2300 miles, and, on another trip, from Las Vegas to San Diego, 436 miles, on a single fill of hydrogen. (See www.wp.me/p2ETap-3l.)
Honda’s fuel-cell designs are already a generation ahead of those of other automakers. According to Honda, this maturity allows fitting the fuel-cell stacks and other hardware completely up front, thus requiring less compromise of passenger space.
The fuel-cell stacks produce more than 100 kW of power, 134 hp. Honda notes a refill of its 10,000-psi hydrogen supply takes around three minutes, comparable to gasoline fillup time. Like Toyota, Honda plays up the water image for its FCEV (see http://goo.gl/gs0p5n).
It’s a whole new world—of advertising as well as reality. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013