President Moon Jae-in asked a barrage of questions when he took the passenger’s seat on the NEXO, Hyundai Motor’s fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) equipped with self-driving technology, for the test drive on Friday. The FCEV President Moon rode completed a 15-minute journey safely with neither the emission of pollutants nor human intervention. The autonomous car also succeeded in running a long distance of around 190 kilometers on a highway from Seoul to Pyeongchang on the same day. This is the first time that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle successfully completed long-distance self-driving at high speeds of up to 110 kilometers per hour.
Hyundai was the world’s first automaker to sell a fuel cell vehicle based on the SUV Tucson ix in early 2013. The model can drive up to 594 kilometers on a single charge, but less than 1,000 units have been sold in the world since its first release. What makes customers hesitant have been the high price of the model set at the beginning, 150 million won per unit, and lack of charging stations. Moreover, with the world’s green car market focusing on hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and pure electric vehicles (EV), Hyundai once drew ridicule from those who thought the company “chose to go into the wrong direction.”
A fuel cell electric vehicle is the ultimate green car, which operates with electricity generated by the reaction that occurs when hydrogen in tanks and oxygen in the air meet. However, it has remained outside the spotlight due to the high unit price of production and initial investment cost in infrastructure. Yet, China recently announced that it will make more efforts to develop FCEVs and thereby “open an era of 1 million FCEVs by 2030.” Wan Gang, China’s Minister of Science and Technology, also praised Hyundai’s technology as “astonishing and tremendous” after his recent test driving the company’s FCEV for 3 kilometers.
Hyundai has now seized an opportunity to further promote FCEVs with the recent test drive of President Moon, the successful completion of self-driving for a long rage, and the provision of support for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Now what should be done is the increase of charging stations. Currently, there are only six charging stations that civilians can use. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport earlier intended to establish 200 stations by 2025, but the plan fell by the wayside due to controversy over feasibility and alleged favors for conglomerates. Though being latecomers, China and Japan started to go all-out to expand their FCEV industry by vowing to build 100 and 160 charging stations by 2020, respectively. We may be leading the pack for now, but a day may arrive soon when our technology, once praised by President Moon as world-class, ends up lagging behind those of other countries.