Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are still pretty foreign to most drivers, but three automakers – Korea’s Hyundai, Japan's Toyota and Honda -- are betting on these environmentally-friendly vehicles going mainstream in the near future.
In March 2013, Hyundai launched the world's first mass-produced hydrogen car, the Tucson Hydrogen Fuel Electric Vehicle, and it recently rolled out the Nexo, its second-generation hydrogen vehicle.
Hyundai Motor developed a hydrogen car first, but Toyota beat Hyundai in commercialization. In 2014, Toyota introduced the hydrogen car 'Mirai' to the market for the first time in the world. Its sales volume grew from 507 units in 2015 to 2,046 units in 2016 and 2,739 units in 2017, mainly in Japan, Europe, and the United States.
Honda launched the hydrogen car Clarity in 2016, but failed to achieve a big success. The Clarity had annual sales of about 200 units, outclassed by the Mirai in competition.
Hyundai’s Nexo is likely to have a two-runner race with Mirai in the hydrogen car market, given the Clarity’s lackluster performance. A comparison of the two models’ main specifications suggests the Nexo has a competitive advantage over the Mirai. On one charge, the Nexo can run up to 609 km while the Mirai 502 km. This is because the Nexo is loaded with a hydrogen tank that is 20% bigger than Mirai’s. The Nexo has a hydrogen tank with a 6.3 kg storage capacity while that of the Mirai’s hydrogen tank is 5 kg. Charging time for the Mirai is three minutes, two minutes faster than the Nexo. However, this gap is not likely to affect actual sales.
The Nexo also gets the better of the Mirai in terms of driving performance. The Nexo's electric motor delivers up to 163 horsepower (120 kW) and a maximum torque of 40.3 kg.m. The Mirai shows a maximum of 154 horsepower (113 kW) and a maximum torque of 34.2 kg.m.
Excluding subsidies, both the Nexo and the Mirai are priced at the 60 million won (US$54,000) level. Although the prices are similar, the Nexo’s competitive edge is sharp enough to pose a threat to the market dominance of Japanese automakers.
"The Nexo's system efficiency is at 60%, the highest among the competing models," an industry expert said. "Another strong point is that it is relatively quiet with an enhanced turbo-type air compressor."
Hyundai is preparing to export the Nexo to Europe and North America, where environmental regulations are being gradually strengthened, in the second half of this year. Hyundai expects the global hydrogen car market to grow from the current 3,000 units to 60,000 units in 2020 and more than 250,000 units in 2030.