June marked the sales launch of the 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell model in California, introducing Hyundai as a major manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Since then, Hyundai has been producing these zero emissions vehicles along the same line as any other Tucson in Ulsan, South Korea. We had an opportunity to take a spin in one while Hyundai is meeting with public policy officials in Masschusetts, discussing the viability of a hydrogen infrastructure to power vehicles like this one.
Hyundai sold its first Tucson Fuel Cell to a customer at Tustin Hyundai in Tustin, California just a few months ago. Like all of these, it was a lease, kicked off with a $2,999 down payment on a 36-month lease of $499 per month. Timothy Bush bought the car in June. “What’s great about the Tucson CUV is that its day-to-day utility is virtually identical to the gasoline version, so we don’t have to compromise our lifestyle in the process,” Bush said when he took delivery. “I can easily fit all of our family’s things in the back.”
From the outside, the only difference is the badging. The Tucson Fuel Cell has subtle callouts along the rocker moldings to indicate that it is a hydrogen fuel cell that provides the motivation. Other than that, you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate this vehicle from anything other Tucson tooling around South Boston.
Under the hood, it doesn’t look much different, either, if you don’t look terribly hard. The motor cover is embossed with the Fuel Cell trim name, but other than some blue plumbing, there isn’t much to indicate that it’s a fully electric drive motor, with a power inverter and a fuel cell stack under the hood instead of a gas engine.
The motor puts out 100kW for the equivalent of 134hp. The 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell has a range of 265 miles, with a fuel economy equivalent of 49 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. The 221 lb.-ft. of torque is evident the minute you roll on the gas. It’s got all the power it needs to run around the city, and merge out onto the highway. California residents will probably be fine with the fact that it’s just front-wheel driven, but as it makes its way to New England and the snowier states, all-wheel drive would need to be a part of the product mix.
Under the fuel cap, there’s a Hydrogen sticker to indicate you shouldn’t be putting Ethyl in there, if the stainless steel hydrogen fitting wasn’t evidence enough. Filling a hydrogen fuel cell car takes no longer than filling a propane cylinder, which offers a major advantage over the existing electric fleet that takes hours to charge.
Two disadvantages: the hydrogen fuel tank is larger than a conventional gasoline tank, but it’s packaged in such a way that the floor is raised about an inch and a half, marginally reducing cargo volume. You also lose the spare tire in favor of an emergency tire inflation kit.
Secondly, the weight increases fairly significantly. The curb weight of the 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell increases to 4,101 from 3,232 in the gas-powered front wheel drive trim. Eight-hundred sixty-nine pounds necessitated that the rear suspension be modified to cope with the extra weight.
It’s not something you’d notice in a car like the Tucson, though. Driving it around doesn’t feel any different than the conventional Tucson. You’d feel that much weight in a performance car, but in in this configuration, it feels pretty natural.
And that was likely what made the Tucson a natural platform for adaptation to a fuel cell. Joe Guy Collier from Hyundai Northeast Communications notes that the fact that the Tucson was a global platform, as well as a vehicle that wouldn’t be as effected by the loss of space was key in the decision, as well.
For now, the rest of the country has to envy California’s budding hydrogen infrastructure. Massachusetts, for example, only has one hydrogen refueling station in Billerica, but if the barnstorming tour is any indication, more infrastructure is on the way.