Pilot programs for Hydrogen-powered cars coming to Ulsan and Gwangju

Hydrogen-powered cars can travel faster on a single car than electric, but lack of charging stations holding back growth


Tucson ix hydrogen fuel-cell car

Hydrogen-powered cars are one step closer to entering use in South Korea. Starting at the end of this year, it will be possible to flag down a taxi running on a fuel cell in the South Korean city of Ulsan or to drive hydrogen-powered cars through a car sharing service in the city of Gwangju.

Hyundai Motor Company announced on Sept. 12 that it will launch two pilot programs for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles – taxis in Ulsan and car sharing in Gwangju – at the end of the year. To move forward with the pilot programs, Gwangju signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) with the city of Ulsan and local taxi companies and with the city of Gwangju and the Gwangju Creative Economy Innovation Center at Sejong Convention Center on Sept. 12.

The reason that South Korea’s central and regional governments are taking action to lay the groundwork for hydrogen fuel-cell cars is because the cars are believed to be friendly to the environment. They do not emit fine dust particles or for that matter any pollutants at all.

In 2013, Hyundai released the Tucson ix, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen-fueled automobile. The sales figures for the model were not that impressive, however, with only 780,000 units sold in South Korea. Most of those were acquired by public agencies and local governments.

The high price of the vehicle and the lack of charging stations were the biggest obstacles to hydrogen fuel-cell cars’ increasing their market share. Another issue is that associated industries are still getting off the ground.

The pilot program for hydrogen-fueled taxis will expand through a series of phases. During the first phase, 10 Tucson ix hydrogen fuel-cell cars will begin operations in Ulsan by the end of 2016, while five more will be introduced in Ulsan and five in Gwangju during the first half of 2017. The second phase of the program, in which hydrogen-fueled taxis will go into service throughout South Korea, will take effect in the first half of 2018, when Hyundai Motor Company unveils the next generation of its hydrogen-powered line of cars.

Program operators are currently reviewing the option of setting the fare for hydrogen-powered taxis at the same rate as ordinary taxis to encourage more people to ride them.

The pilot program for hydrogen-powered car sharing will be operated by Jecar, a startup that is part of an incubator at the Gwangju Creative Economy Innovation Center. “We hope that the public will get an up-close-and-personal experience of the safety and eco-friendly side of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. We’re also planning to take the lead in promoting the export industry by developing technology to popularize not only hydrogen-powered cars but also hydrogen-powered buses,” said Hyundai Motor President Chung Jin-haeng.

Cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells have a number of advantages: they can be charged faster than electric cars, and they can travel much further on a single charge. Once a large number of the cars are on the road, they will be not only much better for the environment than electric cars, but they will also be more affordable.

It only takes about three minutes to charge a hydrogen-powered car – much faster than an electric car, which takes 20 to 30 minutes to charge even using the fastest available technology. On a single charge, a hydrogen-powered car can go more than twice as far as an ordinary electric car.

One disadvantage is that hydrogen-powered cars have to be charged at a separate charging facility, while electric cars can be charged at home. There are already several sites in Europe where the Tucson ix is in service as a taxi. In Paris, five Tucson ix35 cars are currently cruising through the city with the word “hype” emblazoned on them. The cars are serving as taxis for Step, an electric taxi startup. Over the next year, Step plans to acquire 70 more of the model.

Taxi O2O, a taxi company in Sweden, has also incorporated the Tucson ix35 into its taxi fleet, taking advantage of a charging station located near Stockholm Arlanda Airport.

There is also an increasing number of car sharing services that are based on hydrogen-powered cars. In Germany, multinational gas company Linde Group is running a car sharing service called BeeZero that makes use of 50 Tucson ix35 cars. Available in downtown Munich and the surrounding area, the service can be accessed by customers on the internet or on their smartphones.

Source: Hong Dae-seon, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]