Simanaitis Says

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AUTO SHOW FUEL CELL CARS

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.

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Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, as seen at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show.

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.

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The Hyundai Fuel Cell is based on its Tucson crossover.

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.

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The FCV, a most recent look at Toyota’s fuel-cell plans for 2015.

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.

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Toyota FCV.

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.)

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Honda FCEV Concept, as seen at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show.

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.

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Honda FCEV, expected to be on-sale in Japan and the U.S. in 2015.

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

4 comments on “AUTO SHOW FUEL CELL CARS

  1. sabresoftware
    November 25, 2013

    I have been aware of fuel cell technology for some time as my brother used to work for Ballard Power (Mercedes Benz & Ford are investors), and even had an opportunity many years ago to visit their facilities.

    From what I see here my first thoughts are that the styling is a little wild to capture the average owner’s interest, horsepower is low compared to many mainstream cars these days, and living in a climate where minus 20 to minus 30 is not rare, I wonder about some operational issues: cabin heating, and with the exhaust being water vapour, does that mean that you’d leave a giant icicle behind you as you drove?

  2. carmacarcounselor
    November 25, 2013

    Addressing sabresoftware’s styling concern, I think we need not be overly concerned. Hyundai’s FC Tuscon is indistinguishable from its internal combustion siblings, and one of Honda’s 2008 FCX Clarity passed me on the road in Culver City and I had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t just an Accord,
    More important to their long-term marketability is infrastructure. There’s a state-sponsored program in California that’s currently at 10% of its mandate of 10,000 refueling stations, but these vehicles will put pressure on to improve on that.
    I admit to being philosophically opposed to using frak-extracted natural gas to make hydrogen when it works just fine as a fuel without going through the energy-intensive process of extracting the hydrogen.
    When they put solar panels on the roof of every hydrogen refueling station, and make it by electrolysis of water, then I’ll be on board 100%.

  3. Jim in SoCAl
    December 6, 2013

    Over stylized concepts never make it to production. As an enthusiast driver I want torque, and that equals acceleration. There’s nothing here yet, but it’s coming. Those of us around middle + age will miss the sound of the four stroke internal combustion engine, but those who are younger won’t, and max torque at minimal RPM will keep them entertained.

    • carmacarcounselor
      December 6, 2013

      Jim in SoCal: I agree that those of us raised on the sound of a powerful internal combustion engine will be nostalgic for that thrill. I was at Laguna Seca watching (and listening to) the Trans-Am Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and Javelins shortly after driving the original Tesla Roadster. I was torn. I loved the sound of raw power as the cars accelerated out of Turn 11, but at the same time the Tesla experience made me keenly aware that what I was listening to was the sound of 60-75% of the energy contained in the fuel being farted out the exhaust as noise and heat – wasted! As for torque, if one had driven (or better yet, ridden in – the experience is more startling), a Tesla, or even the BMW i3, they will have no more misgivings. Trust me.

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