Atlanta — The North American truck market is notoriously hard for foreign OEMs to crack. Many have tried, and failed, over the years. While others, like Volvo and Daimler, chose to acquire already established American OEMs and then slowly assimilate their own technology and components into the vehicles over time.
Hyundai has been rumored to be interested in getting into the North American Class 8 market for years now. And now, it appears that the Korean car, truck and bus builder sees an opening in the wave of new and disruptive technology sweeping the industry.
At the North American Commercial Vehicle Show (NACV) in Atlanta on Oct. 29, Hyundai’s Commercial Truck division unveiled a futuristic-looking Class 8 tractor it calls the HDC-6 Neptune concept vehicle.
Featuring a highly aerodynamic design inspired by 1930s Art Deco locomotives, the Neptune is a hydrogen-powered truck with daily base range between 600 and 800 miles and a “Studio Space” cab with a modernistic take on driving and work, with amenities allowing drivers to cook, shower and sleep in comfort.
Edward Lee, head of Hyundai’s Commercial Vehicle Business, noted in remarks at a press conference during NACV that Hyundai has a long-established reputation as a global leader in fuel cell technology, going all the way back to its initial hydrogen commercial vehicle which debuted in Germany in 2006. In 2013, Lee noted, Hyundai launched the first mass-produced and commercially available fuel cell electric vehicle. In 2018, Hyundai launched the dedicated FCEV, NEXO. And December 2018, Hyundai invested $6.4 billion to accelerate the development of a hydrogen society, looking beyond passenger vehicles.
“Today at this show, by showing HDC-6 Neptune, the first hydrogen-only concept for Hyundai Motor Company’s commercial vehicles, we will start exploring opportunities in the United States commercial vehicle market,” Lee said. “Furthermore, we are willing to work with other partners to pave the way to establish a hydrogen ecosystem for CV.”
Hyundai feels fuel cells are the perfect alt fuel fit for heavy duty trucks and long driving distances due to higher drive range, higher payload, less refueling time and ultimately lower costs, Lee added. He also noted that Hyundai has already expanded its global leadership in fuel cell technology. Through its joint venture with H2 Energy, Hyundai is commercializing fuel cell electric trucks by providing 1,600 FCEV heavy-duty trucks to the Swiss commercial vehicle market, beginning 2019 through to 2023. With Hyundai’s commercial vehicle entry to the European market, the U.S. market is an important next phase of the company’s FCEV 2020 vision.
A Futuristic Concept Truck
Like the great Art Deco trains of the 1930s, Hyundai engineers sought to give the Neptune 6 an “inspired, function-driven design,” while looking for new ways to combine both form and function to create an entirely unique new solution within the commercial vehicle industry, while offering a holistic global approach.
“The fuel cell powertrain gave us the opportunity to redefine the classical typology and architecture of the truck,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group. “The Hyundai Commercial Vehicles Design Team started with a white sheet of paper focusing on the new defined functionality resetting all standards in order to project commercial vehicles in the future.”
On HDC-6 NEPTUNE, the design team took packaging challenges and found new ways to combine both form and function. Due to increased cooling requirements, the grill of the concept commercial vehicle is applied as the theme across the entire lower portion of the Hyundai HDC-6 NEPTUNE. This creates a distinctive image while maximizing airflow. The grill concept also integrates the retractable steps, which are hidden in the side of the truck. Hyundai said the combination of both cab over engine and conventional truck formats achieves packaging efficiency and improved ergonomics.
Although access to the vehicle’s cab wasn’t permitted, Hyundai showed graphic renderings detailing a clean, modern interior with swivel seating, large, tablet-like display screens, brightly lit heads-up display images on the front windshield and a large, panoramic front windshield. The roomy, “studio-like” interior also has enough space to accommodate a small kitchen and bathroom area with shower, as well as comfortable sleeping arrangements, advancements Hyundai said would help fleets require and retain drivers.
Currently, Hyundai intends to continue refining the fuel technology on the Neptune 6, while evaluating its performance as well as reaction from fleets and potential buyers. To date, the company stresses it is only considering an eventual entry into the North American truck market, but declined to give a firm timeline for any decision on doing so.