The delivery of Hyundai Xcient Fuel Cell electric trucks to customers in Switzerland this year represents the Korean truck maker's first steps toward putting 2,000 fuel-cell trucks into customers' hands around the world by the end of 2021 – including the U.S.
Hyundai Motor Co. has delivered seven Xcient Fuel Cell electric trucks to customers in Luzern, Switzerland. An additional 43 trucks will be delivered to Swiss customers later this year. Hyundai says the Xcient is the world's first mass-produced fuel-cell electric heavy-duty truck.
The Swiss deliveries mark the official entry of Hyundai’s commercial vehicles into the European market, a touchstone for the company’s expansion into the North American and Chinese commercial markets.
“The delivery of Xcient Fuel Cell starts a new chapter not only for Hyundai’s hydrogen push, but also the global community’s use of hydrogen as a clean energy source," said In Cheol Lee, executive vice president and head of Hyundai Motor's Commercial Vehicle Division. “Today’s delivery is just a beginning as it opens endless possibilities for clean mobility."
The 2,000-truck initial production run will support the company's expansion into Europe, the U.S. and China as demand for clean mobility grows, Hyundai says. The increase in capacity will be backed by a $1.3 billion investment, in addition to a previously announced $6.4 billion stake in establishing a hydrogen ecosystem to support creation of a hydrogen society.
“Last July, we successfully shipped our first Xcient Fuel Cell vehicle, and it received much attention worldwide,” said Lee. “It was great to see all the interest because it emphasizes our shared sense of responsibility and determination to build a more sustainable future.”
During a recent video teleconference, Lee emphasized that this move was not a limited-scope demonstration project, but full-scale commercialization with fleet customers putting the trucks into regular service in and around Switzerland.
Last year, Hyundai Motor Company formed Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility (HHM), a joint venture with Swiss company H2 Energy. HHM also is partnering with Hydrospider, a joint venture of H2 Energy, Alpiq and Linde. The customers will be leasing Xcient Fuel Cell trucks from HHM on a pay-per-use basis that does not require an initial investment. Hyundai will take the success in Switzerland to broader European markets as Hyundai establishes solutions and partner networks in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.
“We are the first automaker to commercialize hydrogen-powered trucks with cutting-edge fuel-cell technology,” he added.
With China's hydrogen industry currently on a sharp growth trend, Hyundai aims to get 1 million hydrogen vehicles on roads there by 2030. Initially, Hyundai will focus on China’s four major hydrogen hubs: Jin-jin-ji, Yangtze River Delta, Guangdong Province and Sichuan Province.
Three fuel-cell electric trucks are scheduled for launch in China: a medium-duty truck in 2022, a heavy-duty truck in a couple of years, and another heavy-duty truck strategically designed for the Chinise market following the initial roll-out. Hyundai’s goal is to achieve aggregate sales volume of 27,000 units by 2030.
Hyundai's Coming Here, Too
Hyundai caught everyone's attention last fall when it revealed the fuel cell-powered HDC-6 Neptune Class 8 heavy-duty concept truck at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show. At the time, the company was hinting at what the future might hold. During the recent press conference, Mark Freymüller, the CEO of Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, said the first trucks to hit U.S. soil would be the cab-over-engine Xcient trucks, with chassis and powertrains adapted to this market, including a 6x4 configuration.
“We are going to start with the components we already have, including the fuel cells and the chassis,” he said. "You will see the COE trucks in the U.S. next year . We will be watching two manufacturers in the States that are not traditional commercial vehicle business, but who are still famous, and have a mixed design. We will watch to see if this becomes a form of truck cab that can succeed in America, or if the conventional style cab will continue to dominate."
Freymüller said a decision on the chassis style should be in place by 2024.
To back the U.S. plan, Hyundai is partnering with companies to build a complete hydrogen value chain covering everything from hydrogen production and charging stations to service and maintenance. Hyundai expects to have more than 12,000 fuel cell trucks on U.S. roads by 2030.
Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure
To support the growing hydrogen ecosystem, Hyundai has a business case for more than 100 hydrogen fueling stations in Switzerland, which is enough not only for commercial vehicles, but also for passenger fuel cell electric vehicles. Likewise, Hyundai plans to act as a sector coupler in bringing various players to the hydrogen value chain as part of its efforts to bring value.
“Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility is already in discussions with many different potential partners in other European countries to find possibilities to launch similar ecosystems outside Switzerland,” Freymüller said. “So we need to create country-specific or even region-specific business models, since ‘one size fits all’ or ‘copy and paste’ doesn’t work here.”
He noted that scale is critical to developing the fuel network and building out the surrounding hydrogen economy. He said in the Swiss model, it will take just 10-15 trucks fueling regularly to make a station viable, whereas it would take nearly 700 passenger cars to consume similar hydrogen volumes.
“It will be much easier to organize 10-15 trucks around a fueling station while you’re building up the infrastructure, and of course passenger cars can use it as well,” he added.
Plans for the U.S. include developing a customer base for the trucks and then building the fueling stations at strategic locations near hubs and along heavily traveled lanes. The exact cost of the hydrogen itself can’t be accurately pegged at this point, as a number of factors still have to be determined, such as the volume at station can produce and dispense with a suitable margin, and even the pressure at which the gas dispensed.
“The range of the trucks can be increased by either adding additional onboard storage or increasing the tank pressure,” said Sae hoon Kim senior vice president of Hyundai Motor Group's Fuel Cell Center. “If we up the pressure or capacity, we can use fewer stations, but the increased pumping pressure would add considerably to the cost of the facility.”
Storage pressure used on the current Xcient is 5,000 psi, but it could be doubled to 10,000 psi.
He said similar stations would cost about $1.5 million in Europe, about $3 million in Korea, and close to $6 million in Japan because of the different regulations. There are currently about 400 hydrogen stations around the world. As more are built, the cost will come down.
Building Out the Hydrogen Network
Freymüller acknowledged that the cost of transitioning to hydrogen-based goods movements is not insignificant, but when it’s all scaled up to its working potential, it’s quite feasible. One of two scenarios would have to occur: Either you make the business case better than that of diesel, or you regulate internal combustion engines out of existence, he said.
“These are the two major pillars of change,” he said. “We don't see that type of regulation coming along in the near future, so we will be working hard to develop the business case. That requires a substantial customer base consuming enough hydrogen to achieve cost-parity with diesel trucks, while scaling up production on the trucks and the fueling infrastructure simultaneously.”
Hyundai says it has plans for fuel cells to be deployed in a variety of applications, including rail, marine, buses, passenger cars, and stationary power generation.
While he wouldn't discuss pricing on the trucks, he said some subsidy programs are coming on line that will help, including California's HVIP program, which will contribute up to $300,000 toward the cost of a fuel-cell truck. He also acknowledged that such subsidies are unsustainable.
“We can't piggyback on grants; they will disappear at some point in time,” he admitted. “We are not focusing on customers that want just one truck for a ‘green-washing’ effect for an advertising campaign. We will be carefully choosing initial customers and partners who believe in the technology and who can help make the business case calculation.”
He added that energy costs in the U.S. should be lower than they are in Europe and Japan, while highway taxes in the latter jurisdictions are much higher. He also noted that parity is relative – “The cost of diesel and diesel trucks is going to rise.”
He did not present an actual use-case for the trucks, but expressed optimism that with the right partners, it would work.
“We expect cost parity with diesel could be achieved by 2023 worldwide,” added Kim. “Swiss and German customers could get there even sooner because of government support and public policy initiatives. We expect the overall cost to drop by about 50% over the first five years.”
Hyundai Motor Company will host a digital premiere event for the launch of Xcient Fuel Cell at 10 a.m. KST on Oct. 14. At the event, leaders of Hyundai’s Commercial Vehicle Business Division and Fuel Cell Center will introduce the eco-friendly fuel cell truck and their roadmap for clean commercial mobility.
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