Hyundai Nexo

Michael Fisher (MrMobile) has an excellent road-trip review of Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel-cell powered Nexo:

I really dig the exterior styling of the Nexo. Hyundai’s ‘Cascading Grille’ family face combines harmoniously with the pseudo-front light-bar design of the headlamps to create a futuristic, sci-fi look whilst also visually widening the stance of the vehicle. Another detail I like is the metallic copper paintwork - copper is a rare colour to be offered on a new car these days, and on the Nexo it works particularly well around the rear three-quarters view, creating a distinctive contrast with the black band that creates a floating C-pillar and flows into the tailgate. With electrical wiring typically made from copper, this colour, unintentionally or not, also provides a subtle hint to the powertrain underneath.

To clarify, hydrogen vehicles are electric vehicles in the sense that they incorporate an onboard fuel-cell that takes hydrogen and converts it to electricity, which is subsequently stored in a small battery that directly powers the vehicle. For the sake of clarity, this article uses the term ‘battery electric vehicle’ (BEV) to refer exclusively to electric vehicles that are directly charged from mains electricity rather than using an onboard fuel cell. For further information please see my articles on how hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles work.

The interior must be the most luxurious offered in a Hyundai branded vehicle in recent memory. It fuses a Mercedes-Benz inspired horizontal dual screen setup with a Lexus-style centre console, and is all the better for it. 

Above left to right: The interior of the new Hyundai Nexo compared to the new Mercedes-Benz GLE and 2011 Lexus CT 200h. Notice the similarities in the horizontally oriented dual-screen setup with the Mercedes, and the design and arrangement of controls in the centre console with the Lexus CT.

Nevertheless, I am sceptical that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will ever have widespread private adoption. Despite substantial structural reinforcements and extensive testing, there is no getting around the fact that hydrogen is an extremely flammable fuel, and liable to explode in the event of an extremely severe collision. Although petrol and diesel vehicles today share the same flaw, I can see media coverage and public opinion around hydrogen vehicles becoming extremely cynical following a fatal accident, especially in light of the fact it is a new technology, and irrational cynicism from certain quarters and influential people about electric vehicle technology.

As highlighted in the above video, whilst hydrogen vehicles themselves don’t produce any greenhouse emissions, there are very limited ways to produce hydrogen itself in an environmentally friendly manner. Unlike electricity which can sustainably be produced through solar or hydro-electric power plants, the production of hydrogen involves the release of carbon-dioxide emissions. In this sense, hydrogen vehicles are merely shifting emissions up the hydrogen supply chain, rather than being a holistic, environmentally friendly transport solution.

Right now, a key advantage of hydrogen vehicles over their electric counterparts is the minimal time required to refuel - approximately 5 minutes versus at least 45 min-1 hour for a battery electric vehicle (BEV). However, this is a narrow-minded comparison that fails to take into account the convenience and versatility that battery electric vehicles offer. Fundamentally, hydrogen vehicles follow the same mindset as the typical petrol/diesel car. In order to fill up, you have to go to a dedicated refuelling station, which can be an errand in itself or another stop on a longer journey. In contrast, BEVs offer a huge convenience advantage in that you can charge your car at home. This virtually guarantees that your car is fully charged as soon as you’ve left your driveway, and on shorter day-to-day trips especially, saves the time and worry of having to stop specifically to refuel your car. This is compounded by the versatility of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Whilst dedicated charging stations/networks such as Ionity and others are available, unlike hydrogen refuelling stations and petrol/diesel pumps, these networks are by no means the only way to recharge your car. The extremely widespread availability of electricity today means that it’s easy to build charging points within multi-level carparks, shopping centres, hotels and other frequently visited locations. In these scenarios, it doesn’t matter that charging an electric vehicle takes longer than a hydrogen or petrol/diesel car, as the driver is off doing another activity whilst the car can charge unattended. As no time is spent solely on refuelling the car, the driver effectively saves time which can be used for other things. Thus, strict comparisons between the refuelling/charging time of hydrogen and BEVs are irrelevant as they don’t take into account the charge-at-home convenience and versatility offered by BEVs.

So, what does this all mean for the Nexo? As a vehicle itself, the Nexo is excellent; however, it’s a victim of Hyundai’s bet on the wrong propulsion technology. What I’d love to see is a battery electric version.