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Car Feature: the Hyundai Nexo 2018

Electric cars are the cars of the future… or are they? Hyundai is throwing a monkey wrench into our predictions with the Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel-cell car. Oh yes, this is hydrogen powered. We did not make an error with our title, this is not a concept car, this is a production vehicle. The Nexo is set to hit the international market in 2018, with an Australia debut set for next year. Don’t expect this model to make a huge initial splash in the Australian market, we don’t have the hydrogen refueling stations to support a large-scale roll-out just yet, but the Nexo can well be the flagship that can make or break the adoption of hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

If hydrogen fuel-cell technology can take off, it can add some variety to a future landscape bereft of diesel and petrol cars. Yes, we did say that. I know this will turn off some readers, but the industry has already come to terms with the fact that the days are numbered for traditional fueled cars. Automotive manufacturers have been investing billions into the development of electric vehicles (EV). Countries have committed to deadlines for a complete ban, there are motions in Australia for a 2030 target, and the industry is slowing but surely moving to EV. Also as batteries get more efficient, and hydrogen greener to source, they will just be better options than diesel and petrol.

The Hyundai Nexo isn’t the first hydrogen car to market, but from our first impressions, this feels like the first serious offering that can become a flagship model for the technology. Hydrogen powered vehicles are an interesting new answer to the need for renewable clean energy, in many ways complementary to EV rather than a competitor, as it really is more than simply hydrogen, its hydrogen and electric, also known as a ‘dedicated Fuel Cell EV’.

The Technology and the Australian Advantage

The Nexo has three high pressure hydrogen tanks, the hydrogen is pumped into the fuel cell that converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, from there the Nexo runs very much like an EV, except with no charging times. When fuel is low, the car needs a simple top up of hydrogen, similar to a petrol or diesel car, except the car runs on zero emissionsWhat comes out of the exhaust? Water.

Though, the technology comes with a few hurdles. Firstly, to fill up, the driver needs to have access to a high pressure hydrogen fueling station, and there is only one in Australia, at the Hyundai Sydney site. Though that is planned to expand.

The second hurdle is that though the operation of the car is green, the hydrogen isn’t. Hydrogen is still primarily sourced from natural gases, which means fossil fuels. There is good news to this, there is an answer being developed in Australia that can be a new booming industry. Which is important as historically our economy has relied on booms through natural gas and coal, and those industries are on the decline. Australia looks to be poised to create a way to create renewable hydrogen fuel, and in a cost effective manner.

We don’t want to get too deep into the tech, but water is pumped into a plant, powered by renewable energy that is able to separate the hydrogen.  Hydrogen is then combined into ammonia, which is far cheaper to ship, and then with an Australian CSIRO invention, once shipped, the hydrogen can be cheaply extracted. We may find that hydrogen cars soon become not only a green option, but a patriotic purchasing choice.

Finally, no, it won’t blow up like the Hindenburg. Hydrogen is dangerous, but so is gasoline, but hydrogen is light, if there is a leak it quickly escapes, floating up and out, instead of pooling and emitting flammable vapours around the car like gasoline. The short answer is it is either as safe, or slightly safer than your traditional petrol/diesel car.

 

Hyundai Nexo also enjoys sunsets and long walks on the beach

Let’s talk specs: engine, acceleration, performance and price!

This already has become quite the long car review without even getting into the car. Let’s begin, the Hyundai Nexo hits 60mph in 9.1 seconds. Converting that into sensible metric measurements, that’s about 100kmh in 9.2 seconds. Publications have tried comparing the Nexo to the Tesla Model 3, they are both clean energy SUV’s, but it’s not a fair comparison, as we can see in the Model 3’s faster acceleration, hitting 100kmh in 3.1 seconds.

The Nexo is a larger SUV much alike to the Toyota Kluger and the Hyundai Santa Fe, it just happens to be powered by Hydrogen. Compared to these (Toyota Kluger 7.9 seconds, Hyundai Santa Fe 10.9 seconds) models the Nexo sits right on the money for acceleration. Where it breaks away is range. Hyundai is reporting a range of 600km.

It’s also self driving. Hyundai Nexo’s have been driving between Seoul and Pyeongchang, making the 190km drives safely and purely autonomously. On top of self driving, the Hyundai Nexo is packed to the brim with safety features to assist the driver – auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance.

So… now to answer the all important question. How much does it cost? This figure includes some guestimation, there isn’t an official Australian price as of yet, but sources are predicting around $85k.

Interior and Finishing

Externally you can see it’s a nice looking car. It’s not the most innovative, ground-breaking design, but it’s an attractive vehicle. As for the interior… it lets the car down. It’s boring. Yes there is a big modern screen, but it’s kind of clunky, it looks like an aftermarket addition, rather than a made to fit screen integrated into the design. For an $85,000 car, it is just missing that ‘oomf’, that feeling of class, luxury, metal polishes, and quality materials. It looks cheap.

There is obviously a cost to the technology, environmentally friendly, innovative technologies are not going to be as cheap as standard diesel and petrol – for now. Of course as economies of scale grow, these costs with reduce. In the saturated SUV market, with options touted as ‘luxury SUV’s’, at far lower price points, it’s a real mark against the Hyundai Nexo that the interior is so blasé.

Verdict

Nah! Even if hydrogen becomes a way of the future it is highly unlikely that the Hyundai Nexo will be your first hydrogen fuel-cell car. The market isn’t ready for it, there aren’t enough fueling stations, and the price is too high to attract any more than early adopters. Also, there are better environmentally friendly options, at lower price points.

For those liking a small zippy hatch, the Nissan Leaf will hit the Australian market with a $50k price tag. Still want a Hyundai SUV? The Hyundai Kona EV will hit the market at $50k. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars will have the benefit of traditional refueling, which can put some car owners fear at ease, but good luck finding a refueling station near you any time soon! That doesn’t mean we won’t be enthusiastically watching the technology, especially in cities like California that have already invested in hydrogen refueling stations, and has previously seen hydrogen fuel-cell cars like the Honda Clarity FC.

When we do see a good contender for a jump to hydrogen, we will let you know, but for the time being hold onto those purse strings. It may even be worth saving that little extra to get a Tesla Model X – now that feels as luxurious as it’s price-tag.

 

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