Beyond EVs? Two Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars That Are Even Better

hydrogen fuel cell cars Hyundai

Will hydrogen fuel cell cars eclipse EVs before they’ve even had a chance to go mainstream?

We’ve been waiting for electric vehicles (EVs) to replace gas guzzlers for more than a hundred years. Literally. The first electric motor was installed in a car way back in the 1800s. Yet a deeply entrenched oil and gas industry has kept this technology at bay for decades. Now, at long last, major car manufacturers are releasing plug-in vehicles that are both efficient and somewhat affordable. But the switch to EVs is still taking longer than many anticipated.

Now, some believe that we will never see an electric vehicle revolution, not because the technology isn’t sound, but because it will quickly be made obsolete by something even better: hydrogen fuel cell cars.

A major complaint about electric vehicles (at least among the eco-conscious) is that they’re still dependent on a power grid that runs off fossil fuels. Even though the EVs themselves aren’t belching toxic fumes into the air, their batteries are powered by the same coal-fired and nuclear power plants that fuel our homes. When you consider the entire life-cycle of ownership, they’re not as green as you’d think.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles harvest power from another, much cleaner source. Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. Instead of a big dirty engine, or heavy battery, hydrogen vehicles have a fuel cell, which converts hydrogen to electricity, giving off only heat and water as byproducts. For a long time, these true zero-emissions vehicles were the stuff of myth and legend in automotive circles, but now, two major car companies are moving to bring hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market within the next few years. Take a peek.

Hyundai Tucson (pictured above)

According to Hyundai, “The Tucson Fuel Cell represents the next generation of electric vehicles – those that create their own electricity, on-board, from hydrogen.” Unlike many EVs, the Tucson Fuel Cell has a driving range up to 300 miles and is capable of full refueling in under 10 minutes. Starting in Spring 2014, the company plans to lease this next-generation Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle to customers in the Los Angeles/Orange County region for $499 per month, including unlimited free hydrogen refueling and At Your Service Valet Maintenance at no extra cost. That means if something goes wrong, a Hyundai tech will come out to your house to fix it.

“The superior range and fast-fill refueling speed of our Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle contrast with the lower range and slow-charge characteristics of competing battery electric vehicles,” said John Krafcik, president and chief executive officer, Hyundai Motor America, in a press release. “We think fuel cell technology will increase the adoption rate of zero-emission vehicles, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits.”

hydrogen fuel cell cars Honda

Honda FCEV Concept

If you thought 21st century vehicles would look a little bit more like spaceships, Honda’s idea of hydrogen fuel cell cars will be a pleasant surprise. Sleek and riding low to the ground, the Honda FCEV Concept made its world debut at the recent Los Angeles International Auto Show. But don’t let the sports car body fool you, this car also delivers ample passenger space and seating for five passengers thanks to new powertrain packaging efficiencies. Honda has been working on hydrogen fuel cell cars for the better part of a decade, but this is the first concept that has a good chance of making it to market. “The production model that the FCEV inspires will feature the world’s first fuel cell powertrain packaged entirely in the engine area. Not only will this open up more cabin space, it will allow Honda to apply the fuel cell driveline to multiple vehicle formats, should it decide to do so,” reports Gizmag. According to a company press release, Honda’s next-generation fuel-cell vehicle is anticipated to launch in the U.S. and Japan in 2015, followed by Europe.

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Images: Hyundai and Honda