Hyundai's hydrogen fuel-cell car makes U.S. debut

Tue Jun 10, 2014 11:20pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Southern California motorist drove off the lot of a Hyundai Motor Co dealership on Tuesday in a zero-emissions car touted by the automaker as marking the commercial debut of mass-produced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the United States.

State energy and air-quality officials hailed the occasion in Tustin, California, about 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Los Angeles, as a milestone in efforts to curb tailpipe pollution that accounts for about a third of California's greenhouse gas emissions.

Independent industry analysts were less breathless about the announcement, noting that other automakers, including Honda Motor Co Ltd and Mercedes-Benz, have already put fuel cell vehicles on the road, albeit in very limited numbers.

They said the relatively high cost of building the cars and extremely low number of hydrogen refueling stations would constrain the market for such vehicles for years to come. But they credited South Korean-based Hyundai with making a high-profile commitment to a promising technology.

"That's a big deal," said industry analyst Maryann Keller, of Maryann Keller & Associates of Greenwich, Connecticut.

In a ceremony at Tustin Hyundai, dealer principal John Patterson handed the keys for the new Tucson fuel cell-powered crossover vehicle to its first U.S. customer, Timothy Bush, who is leasing the car for $499 a month plus a $2,999 down payment.

As an added incentive for early adopters, the three-year, 36,000-mile lease term also come with unlimited free hydrogen refueling and free maintenance service at any of one of three participating dealerships in Southern California. The cars are not yet available for sale, company officials said.

The Tucson fuel cell, which comes only in white, is virtually identical to the gasoline version of the CUV, a four-door automobile with a rear hatch, and is manufactured on the same assembly line at Hyundai's Tucson plant in Ulsan, South Korea.   Continued...

A Hyundai Tucson hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is driven during a photo op in Newport Beach, California June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo