The news this week that Hyundai Motor Company is planning a hydrogen-powered tractor for global markets, including the U.S., could be the beginning of a larger presence for the company into North America.
Already a player in commercial vehicles elsewhere in the world, Hyundai is looking for new markets, and it is doing so by making its bet on the future of hydrogen. When asked by FreightWaves whether the HDC-6 Neptune concept truck would be the beginning of a larger Hyundai presence with additional truck models – either hydrogen or non-hydrogen – in North America, chief executive Edward Lee was cautious in his response.
"That's not yet decided," he answered. "We try to [take advantage] of business opportunities."
The press release for the Neptune hinted at a broader leap into the U.S. market, stating that "With Hyundai's commercial vehicle entry to the European market, the U.S. market is an important next phase of the company's FCEV 2030 vision."
Hyundai does have a presence in in subsidiary Hyundai Translead, which supplies trailers to the North American market and itself introduced a concept refrigeration trailer at the show.
Hyundai has an order for 1,600 fuel-cell electric (FCEV) trucks in Switzerland. Maik Ziegler, vice president of the company's Commercial Vehicle Research & Development Strategy Group, said that any substantial entry to the U.S. market will not be "based on subsidies," but rather "because there is a business case."
"We have a very clear understanding of where Europe is going," he said, noting that the current regulatory environment and focus on maintaining fossil fuels clouds the outlook somewhat in the U.S.
"We are really looking at the business case," Ziegler said. "Which customer wants to go with us because they have the business case."
The expansion of a hydrogen fueling network in the U.S. will "most likely" depend on partnerships, he told FreightWaves. Nikola Motors is working with Nel Hydrogen to develop infrastructure for its vehicles, but those stations will also eventually be opened to the public, Nikola has said. Ziegler said Hyundai is building a partnership with H2 Energy in Switzerland for the hydrogen infrastructure, but that in the U.S., some of the customers are big enough they may choose to develop their own fueling locations that will allow them to also sell the fuel to other fleets and automotive drivers.
As to the business case for hydrogen, Hyundai executives are quite confident it is the fuel for the future, which will also increasingly see autonomous vehicles. During a Tuesday press conference, Lee said the company expects to have Level 4 cars operating on roadways by 2024 and 500,000 hydrogen fuel cell systems, both in commercial and automotive platforms, on roadways by 2030.
"After 20 years of efforts to [achieve] zero emissions, the conclusion we've come to is hydrogen," Lee said. "Fuel cell commercial vehicles are no longer futuristic ideas; they are driving on the road [today]."
Hyundai has successfully tested autonomous trucks operating in platoon operations in South Korea, the company said.
Next month, Hyundai's Xcient fuel cell truck will begin serial production with deliveries in Switzerland early next year. Fuel cell buses have been in production since 2016 and the company is preparing its third-generation FCEV bus, after producing the first FCEV bus in 2006 for the World Cup in Germany.
"Nobody in the industry has a longer history with fuel cells than Hyundai," Ziegler said.
The HDC-6 Neptune concept truck features a 15-minute refueling time, far shorter than a battery-electric model, and will have a payload advantage as well without the need to carry excess weight in batteries. The 350 kW electric motor produces about 476 horsepower.
"Batteries make sense for low weight, short-haul [operations]," Ziegler said, "but fuel cells are vital for long-haul trucking."
He quickly added that a business case can be made for building a hydrogen station with the operation of just 10 FCEV trucks.
As far as the design thought behind the HDC-6 Neptune, Hak So Ha, vice president of research & development, said there was a definite plan.
"The HDC-6 Neptune was conceived to [operate] in harmony with the environment while succeeding in commerce," he said. "This is the first of many great ideas we have to create total logistics solutions."
The plan is to develop a single global platform that can be used for multiple vehicle configurations and applications.
"The Hyundai Neptune marks the beginning of a new era, not only for Hyundai, but for the entire transport industry," Ha added.
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