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Hyundia begins shipping Tuscon FCEV for compliance car sales in Southern Calif.

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Hyundai's first "mass produced" fuel cell vehicles, the Tuscon Fuel Cell CUV, began arriving Wednesday on US soil ahead of first retail sales expected in a few weeks. As one of the first fuel cell vehicles in large scale production, this is a history-making event, but the significance tempered by the limited scope of impact Tuscon Fuel Cell sales will have.

Many pin the clean vehicle hopes on fuel cell vehicles, claiming that the longer driving range and faster recharge time (300 miles, and 10 minutes, for the Tuscon Fuel Cell CUV) will make them more attractive to car buyers. Hyundai has focused on fuel cell vehicle development, instead of battery electric vehicles, for this reason. “Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles represent the next generation of zero-emission electric vehicle technology, and we’re proud of our leadership role in this important segment of the alternative fuel vehicle market,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president, corporate and product planning, Hyundai Motor America. “The range and refueling time of our Tucson Fuel Cell compare favorably with gasoline vehicles, making them a seamless transition from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. We’re excited to provide customers in Southern California a way to transition to a zero-emission vehicle with minimal compromises."

Fuel cell vehicles do have an electric drive train, but energy is stored as hydrogen in a pressurized tank, rather than electrons in a battery pack. The Tuscon Fuel Cell has a 100 kilowatt electric motor, powered by a fuel cell unit and a hydrogen tank with 38 gallons (12.4 pounds) capacity. As in all fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen is passed through the fuel cell, producing electricity that powers the electric motor that drives the wheels. A small battery pack also stores electricity between the two.

Hyundai estimates the driving range at 265 miles. It has a top speed of 100 miles/hr and a 0-60 miles/hr time of 12.5 seconds.

Hyundai is only offering the Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicle only in the Los Angeles area through three Hyundai dealerships: Tustin Hyundai, Win Hyundai in Carson, and Hardin Hyundai in Anaheim. Sales will spread to other areas as hydrogen refueling infrastructure is built.

It's available for a 36 month $499/month lease with a $2,999 down payment. The lease includes unlimited free hydrogen refueling, and the Hyundai Equus “At Your Service” valet program. Under that program, when the Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicle requires service the customer arranges with their Hyundai dealer to pick up the vehicle, provide a loaner, then return the vehicle to their home or business, at no charge. There is no option to purchase the vehicle, it is only available under a lease.

While many extoll the virtues of fuel cell vehicles (fast refueling, the exhaust is water vapor, etc) they have a huge achilles heel: The lack of refueling infrastructure. Hydrogen is everywhere, because it's a component of almost every chemical around us. But pure hydrogen is not readily available in any kind of form that can be used in refueling a fuel cell vehicle. By contrast, battery electric vehicles are rechargeable at any electricity outlet, because electricity is readily available.

Compared to recharging stations for electric vehicles, fuel cell recharging stations are expensive (around $2 million apiece) and are slow to deploy (taking 2 years or so for construction). California recently announced $46 million in grants to fund 54 fuel cell recharging stations out of a total of 100 stations that are expected to be required to support full commercialization of fuel cell vehicles. By contrast, electric vehicle recharging stations, even the fast charging stations, cost a fraction of that amount.

The limited production rate and extremely limited sales area means the Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicle is what we call a "compliance car." Compliance cars are built primarily to earn points under California's Zero Emission Vehicles program, and those points are what allow the automaker to continue selling other vehicles in California.

Customers interested in purchasing a Tuscon Fuel Cell vehicle should go to Hyundai's website and register.

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