Oct 7, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Hyundai bets big on hydrogen trucks

Image of Hyundai XCIENT fuel cell truck on a road in a snowy mountain range

Hyundai XCIENT fuel cell truck. Photo: Christian Bittmann/Hyundai

Hyundai Motor Company delivered its first XCIENT fuel cell heavy-duty trucks on Tuesday to customers in Europe, and announced aggressive plans to bring hydrogen-powered trucks to the U.S. and China, too.

Why it matters: While most major truck manufacturers are working on hydrogen trucks as a cleaner alternative to diesel, Hyundai is well beyond the prototype phase and is preparing to produce as many as 2,000 trucks a year starting in 2021.

What's happening: Hyundai said it will invest $1.3 billion to expand production capacity to support growth in Europe, China and the U.S.

  • That's in addition to a previously announced $6.4 billion investment for creation of a "hydrogen ecosystem," including hydrogen production, charging stations, service and maintenance.

Zoom in: On Tuesday, Hyundai delivered the first seven fuel cell trucks in Switzerland and said a total of 50 would be on the roads there by the end of the year.

  • In the U.S., Hyundai expects to deliver more than 12,000 fuel cell trucks by 2030.
  • In China, where the government aims to have 1 million hydrogen vehicles on the road by 2030, Hyundai's sales goal is 27,000 fuel cell trucks of different sizes.

How it works: Unlike conventional gasoline or diesel cars or trucks, fuel cell vehicles combine hydrogen and oxygen to power an electric motor. The only tailpipe emission is water.

  • One advantage over battery electric vehicles is that fuel cell vehicles can be refueled in less than 10 minutes.
  • Another plus: commercial trucks don't require a large network of hydrogen fueling stations. An entire truck fleet can be refueled at a designated depot.

What to watch: Other manufacturers are teaming up to develop fuel-cell trucks, too.

  • Daimler and Volvo Trucks announced a joint venture earlier this year, and Honda is partnering with Isuzu.
  • Toyota, which is already testing hydrogen trucks at two ports near Los Angeles, said this week it will work with its Hino subsidiary to develop a fuel cell truck for North America, with a demonstration model arriving in the first half of 2021.
  • Meanwhile, embattled fuel cell startup Nikola says it will begin testing prototype trucks by the end of 2021. Its credibility is under attack, however, amid allegations that founder Trevor Milton misled investors about its technology.
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