2016's Top Ten Tech Cars: Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

Fill ’er up—with hydrogen

Hydrogen cars have been such a tease. For decades, carmakers have held out the hope of clean energy, free of fossil fuels and tailpipe emissions, without telling us where the hydrogen will come from and what it will cost.

The Tucson answers the second question, at least: Lease the Tucson in California—where a US $5,000 state subsidy reduces the payment to around $440 a month—and Hyundai will pick up the tab for three years’ worth of hydrogen fuel.

The Hyundai is basically an electric car with a fuel cell fed by compressed hydrogen in place of a lithium-ion battery. A pair of tanks hold 5.6 kilograms of hydrogen at 69,000 kilopascals (10,000 psi). It flows into a fuel cell, where electrons are stripped from hydrogen atoms, creating ions that flow one way as electricity flows the other way, powering an electric motor. Then the ions combine with oxygen in the air to form water vapor—the only emission.

The Tucson drives like any electric car, only slower than most. Figure more than 10 seconds to reach 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). That’s what you get when a 99-kilowatt (134-horsepower) AC motor must move about 2 metric tons of SUV.

The advantages of hydrogen include good, old-fashioned fill-ups, taking not much longer than a gasoline stop, and also a reasonable driving range of 426 km (265 miles), according to Hyundai.

As for the “where,” there are fewer than 10 public hydrogen stations in California. However, the state plans to invest $47 million to open another 28 stations and to bring that number up to 100 over a decade.