While the majority of carmakers are now focussed on electrically-powered vehicles (hybrid or full electric), some of the leading companies have also been looking further ahead with the development and commercialisation of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Such vehicles are also powered by electric motors but instead of their battery packs being recharged from an electrical supply or through regeneration, they use hydrogen. Chemical energy from the gas is converted into electricity which is then stored in the battery pack and used to power the motors.

Using hydrogen is advantageous since its supply is virtually limitless as it is the most abundant chemical in the universe. Electricity as an energy source still has to be generated and some methods of generation still require fuel that is not unlimited (eg coal). The technology is still in its infancy so it is costly to use in cars but some of the carmakers have managed to offer FCEVs in certain places where hydrogen stations exist. Due to the high cost of the vehicles, they are usually offered with a leasing plan.

Hyundai Motor is among the companies that has production FCEVs and has been offering a Tucson FCEV since 2014 in Korea and some parts of Europe, Canada and the USA. Now the Tucson is joined by the NEXO FCEV which also has a SUV design.

The NEXO is the most advanced production FCEV model Hyundai currently has and leads the carmaker’s plans in development of zero-emission vehicles. “Hydrogen energy is the key to building a more sustainable society. Hyundai Motor Company has already taken a lead in hydrogen technology with the introduction of the Tucson fuel cell,” said Dr. Woong-chul Yang, Vice-Chairman, Hyundai Motor Company. “Yet another result of Hyundai Motor’s earth-saving effort, our second-generation NEXO Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle is the culmination of our cutting-edge technologies.”

Improving upon the Tucson FCEV, the NEXO has an estimated driving range of up to 600 kms, 185 kms more than its predecessor. In addition, refuelling can be completed in as little as 5 minutes, giving the driver an experience very similar to a comparable petrol-powered SUV in terms of range and speed of refuelling.

The lighter and more compact (compared to the one in the Tucson) powertrain’s system output is 161 peak horsepower (120 kW) with almost 400 Nm of torque. Acceleration and power have increased compared with Tucson FCEV although no figures are given.

The NEXO hydrogen storage system uses 3 separate hydrogen tanks in the rear of the vehicle. These are configured to maximize overall interior volume, especially in the rear cargo area, and allowing for a flatter load floor.

Advanced technologies are also found in the driver assist systems as well as for making motoring more convenient. For example, Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA) can either autonomously park or retrieve itself from either a parallel or perpendicular parking space with or without a driver in the vehicle. The RSPA system can even autonomously reverse the NEXO into a parking spot with a touch of a key fob button by the driver.

The construction of the NEXO is also eco-friendly with materials used such as soybean-oil based polyurethane paint, bamboo-thread-based bio fabric, bio-plastic and bio-carpet extracted from sugarcane. Bio-based materials were applied to 47 different parts and reduced carbon dioxide emissions notably during the manufacturing process.

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[Chips Yap]

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