Hyundai, Toyota join push to develop hydrogen-fueled commercial trucks

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Branching into fuel cell trucks also delivers added scale for pricey components, such as fuel cell stacks and high-pressure hydrogen tanks, helping drive down production costs.

The fuel cell system in Hyundai’s trucks, for instance, is based on the same components used in its passenger vehicles — although trucks require more durable fuel cell membranes and catalysts because of the higher number of miles driven. Spreading that technology over bigger volumes helps.

Hyundai expects to build just 11,000 fuel cell passenger vehicles this year. But the addition of 2,000 fuel cell trucks for Europe next year, on Hyundai’s way to supplying the region with 25,000 by 2030, will represent a significant uptick in volume.

Hyundai is also in talks to supply hundreds of fuel cell trucks to a U.S. customer in 2022.

“As we are using the same technology on the trucks, we can benefit from this cost reduction effect,” Kim said.

In coming years, hydrogen trucks will become more competitive with their diesel counterparts thanks to falling costs for fuel cells and rising costs for diesels amid more stringent emissions rules.

Hyundai projects that,because of stricter U.S. carbon dioxide regulations, fuel cells will account for 30 percent of the heavy-truck market in 16 states, including California, by 2030.

Hyundai’s U.S. truck will be based on the sleek, bullet-faced HDC-6 Neptune concept, a hydrogen-powered Class 8 heavy-duty truck it unveiled at last fall’s North American Commercial Vehicle Show.

Its design was inspired by the iconic streamliner trains of the 1930s.

But long term, heavy-duty trucks can only take the technology so far, given limited overall demand in the segment.

True mass scale will only come through fuel cell passenger vehicles. But to get the ball rolling, Hyundai and Toyota are seeking incremental volume from multiple applications.

“That’s why we are using our technology in passenger vehicles, trucks, ships, trains and as backup power,” Hyundai’s Kim said. “We are trying to use this technology everywhere we can.”

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