Hyundai Nexo - the future now

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Words: Kyle Cassidy
27 Nov 2019

As everyone keeps informing us, there is no silver bullet in the fight to reduce our vehicle emissions, but we know electrification will help. And hydrogen too. It’s a technology that has been mooted for awhile now, but as development of FCEVs steams ahead, infrastructure investment in most parts of the world lags behind. A few carmakers have hydrogen powered vehicles available around the world, Hyundai being one of them, and Hyundai New Zealand has had a couple of Nexos here for the past six months. These were first seen at Fieldays and have been heavily promoted since, while we got a brief drive of the new H2-powered machines in the South Island this week. Not that you can buy one just yet, as there is no where to refill the thing, except at Hyundai NZ’s headquarters in Auckland. So what’s the point then?

You have to get the ball rolling somehow says Hyundai NZ, so it’s giving it a crack by having the Nexos here. They see it as a way to start the conversation around hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in NZ, and it’s a good branding/technology leader for the company. Hyundai isn’t saying hydrogen-power will replace its EVs (which already make up 10 per cent of HNZ’s local sales) but they see it as a piece of the puzzle on the way to net zero carbon emissions.

Currently, the only place you can refill the Nexo is at Hyundai NZ's own fill station, and this investment so far is all HNZ’s own. They are ahead of the regulations as setting up their station required a few months of negotiations with the powers that be to ensure they were doing the right thing, only to find there were no regulations in place for it.

Hyundai sees the potential in hydrogen to power a range of transportation, from boats to trains and buses and trucks. It already has the latter two in production, and it is here where HNZ see the real potential for hydrogen in New Zealand within the next five to ten years. In terms of range, payload and refill times, Hyundai sees hydrogen as having more potential for trucks and buses than battery tech, provided someone sorts out the infrastructure. Get to it ministers.

Anyway, to the Nexo then. While there’s not enough space to explain how it all works here, essentially the fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity, the only byproduct of the reaction being water. The electricity powers a motor, which drives the wheels via a single speed reduction gearbox. Nexo has 120kW and 395Nm, is claimed to have a 605km range and consumes 0.9kg of hydrogen per 100km, emitting only water. It also has a 1.56kWh lithium ion battery pack which supplies added power to boost motor output when extra squirt is called on, as the fuel stack output is only rated at 95kW.

There are three carbon fibre hydrogen tanks on board that carry the 157L/6.3kg of hydrogen. These are said to have been subjected to all manner of tests, including being shot at, to prove their worthiness and Hyundai reckon the tanks are servicabe for 20 years or 5000 refills. It’s said that a refill takes five minutes using a 700bar refueling rig. Service intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months, the main service item being the air filter for the air purifier as the fuel cell needs a clean source of air to do its thing.

To drive, Nexo has a strong torque delivery, and gets along fine, in a refined manner. As such it hauls up the hills well, and is said to take 9.2sec to hit 100km/h. However, after driving the Kona EV again on the same day, Nexo doesn’t feel as zippy, as it has less power and weighs more at 1870kg. The power response isn’t quite as instant either. But then it’s a different type of EV this, while our 118km of driving at a tourist’s pace along SH94 back from Milford Sound averaged 1.2kg of hydrogen per 100km with zero CO2 emitted. One of the driver info displays reckoned that by driving the Nexo 200km, it had equated to a 28.9kg reduction in CO2 compared with a petrol powered vehicle of the same size over the same distance.

Nexo, Hyundai’s second generation hydrogen vehicle (the first being a lease-only ix35 not seen here), sits on its own platform, and is intended as a technology showcase for the brand. They sell around 500 per month around the globe.There’s 461L of luggage space, plenty of rear leg room, but it’s not rated to tow. The interior is interesting, there’s a big widescreen display, but also a mass of buttons on the floating console that reminds of a 90s midi-system. The interior is all about bio-friendly materials, fitted even with vegan leather. It has all the driver aids, and more advanced bits like remote parking. And it has a five star Euro NCAP rating.

HNZ is not ready to put a price on Nexo for NZ consumption, but it’s $61,800 in California and £68,856 in the UK, though don’t expect to be able to buy one any time soon unless you have your own hydrogen fueling station.

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