June 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

Hyundai positions hydrogen SUV as alternative electric vehicle

Tucson crossover (Hyundai Motor Co.)

Hyundai Motor Co. has started retail leasing of its hydrogen-powered Tucson crossover as the South Korean carmaker and competitors look to expand the market for alternative zero-emission electric vehicles.

The automaker, the Asian nation’s largest, said Tuesday’s delivery of the small sport-utility vehicle to Tim Bush, a Newport Beach, California-based insurance agent, is the first of a “mass-produced” fuel-cell auto to a retail customer. The Seoul-based company is promoting the Tucson, already in fleets in Korea and Europe, with a $499-a-month lease in California that includes unlimited hydrogen refueling for three years.

“Fuel-cell technology is not intended to replace electric vehicles,” Dave Zuchowski, chief executive officer of Hyundai’s U.S. sales unit, said at a Hyundai dealership in Tustin, California. “We see it as the next electric vehicle, but with no compromises.”

Hyundai will be followed in 2015 by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in marketing hydrogen vehicles to drivers in California, Japan, Korea and Europe. The companies say that by making electricity needed for power on board, rather than storing it in batteries, fuel-cell vehicles offer greater driving range and versatility than rechargeable cars such as Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf or Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW i3 hatchback.

Zuchowski in an interview declined to say how many fuel-cell Tucsons Hyundai will deliver to U.S. customers this year. Volume will rise in 2015 and beyond as more hydrogen fuel stations open in California, he said, without elaborating.

The California Energy Commission is providing about $47 million for 28 new hydrogen stations, along with 10 already in operation and 16 more in development. By 2016, automakers are counting on more than 50 operating in the state, enough to support tens of thousands of fuel-cell vehicles.

Automakers are under pressure in California, as well as across the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea, to offer vehicles that emit little or no carbon pollution and reduce petroleum use. While fuel-cell vehicles, like battery-electric cars, produce no tailpipe pollution, a lack of fueling infrastructure has been a hurdle to bringing them to market.

Driving range for the hydrogen Tucson is about 265 miles and can be refueled in a few minutes, Zuchowski said.

“The first delivery of a mass-produced fuel-cell vehicle to a retail customer brings us one step closer to materially reducing the CO2 levels in the vehicles we drive,” Zuchowski said.