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Hyundai's Hydrogen Semi-Truck Concept Is Built to Take on Tesla


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Car & Driver  /  October 29, 2019

Hyundai's hydrogen future just got a lot bigger. The company offers two hydrogen passenger cars in California, fuel-cell (FCEV) versions of the Tucson SUV and the Nexo crossover, but a future hydrogen-powered entry in the U.S. market could compete with Macks and Peterbilts instead of the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity.

The Hyundai HDC-6 Neptune concept was unveiled at the North American commercial-vehicle show in Atlanta this week, the latest shift in strategy for the Korean company. Hyundai already has thousands of its semi-trailers on the road in the U.S., but it does not sell any of its semi-tractors here. The Neptune could be the first, part of the company's expansion of its FCEV 2020 vision to the U.S. market.

Globally, it's a different story, since fossil-fuel Hyundai semi-tractors are sold in more than 100 countries, and the company's zero-emission truck future is starting outside the U.S. as well. Hyundai will also deliver the first of 1600 hydrogen-powered semi-tractors to companies in Switzerland later this year. While the powertrain in these trucks is zero emission, the look is a more standard cab-over design based on Hyundai's XCient heavy truck.

Normal is not the case with the Class 8 heavy-duty Neptune. More Mercury Streamliner than semi-truck, the Neptune has a front end dominated by a swooping windshield and a large, low air intake. An LED screen in the grille area can be used to indicate if the vehicle is at rest or to display a company logo or other usage information. Steps leading into the truck tuck away when not in use, adding to the overall aerodynamic look of the semi.

The Neptune wasn't just made to look cool, Hak Soo Ha, Hyundai Motor Company's vice president, interior design group, told Car and Driver. Although it's still a concept, the truck was designed with real-world use and regulations in mind. The front end sticks out a little farther than most European trucks, but it will still be able to meet the tight 41-foot turning radius requirements there. And in the U.S., the weight of the powertrain has been distributed so that an eventual production model will not run afoul of the Federal Bridge Gross Weight Formula. Potential competitors to the Hyundai in the alternative-energy-semi space aren't building their trucks with these global regulations in mind, Ha said, which means they will need to develop different models for different models or rework their designs. "Tesla and Nikola never took into account these regulations," he claimed.

Accessed through a sliding door, the Neptune's cabin is as futuristic as any concept car, outfitted with "transparent" A-pillars that use screens to show what's on the other side, driver monitoring cameras, and a small living space that includes a kitchen, shower, and toilet and a sleeping area for two. When the truck is used in autonomous mode, the windshield can be used as a giant movie screen.

It's in the powertrain where the Neptune shows its connection to the automaker's hydrogen passenger vehicles. While not powerful enough to compete with diesel engines just yet, the Neptune uses two of Hyundai's current-gen fuel-cell stacks taken from the Nexo. Each of those is good for 127 horsepower, which gives the Neptune a total output of 255 horsepower. A fully functional fuel cell semi would need around 469 horsepower, Saehoon Kim, Hyundai Motor Group's vice president and head of its Fuel Cell Group, told C/D.

"By the time this truck is commercialized, we will put a proper-sized and proper-powered fuel-cell system in it so it can perform on par with diesel trucks," he said. " We started with passenger vehicles, and we have to use that same system at the moment."

Future passenger cars wouldn't necessarily benefit from that kind of power output, but the cost and reliability lessons that Hyundai learns as it builds H2 commercial vehicles could lead to better hydrogen-powered SUVs and sedans. "We will try to use our best knowledge for each," he said.

The Neptune on display had four compressed-hydrogen fuel tanks, which could offer a full day's worth of range, around 600 to 800 miles, Hyundai said. The truck could be equipped with up to eight tanks for additional range.

Hyundai also said it is interested in finding partners to help it establish a hydrogen ecosystem for commercial vehicles. A production truck based on the Neptune is targeted for 2023, and when it gets here, it could look a lot like the concept. "Efforts are going on to retain as much of this as possible," Ha said.

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Hyundai Considers Hydrogen Tractor for North America

Heavy Duty Trucking (HDT)  /  October 29, 2019

Atlanta — The North American truck market is notoriously hard for foreign OEMs to crack. Many have tried, and failed, over the years. While others, like Volvo and Daimler, chose to acquire already established American OEMs and then slowly assimilate their own technology and components into the vehicles over time.

Hyundai has been rumored to be interested in getting into the North American Class 8 market for years now. And now, it appears that the Korean car, truck and bus builder sees an opening in the wave of new and disruptive technology sweeping the industry.

At the North American Commercial Vehicle Show (NACV) in Atlanta on Oct. 29, Hyundai’s Commercial Truck division unveiled a futuristic-looking Class 8 tractor it calls the HDC-6 Neptune concept vehicle.

Featuring a highly aerodynamic design inspired by 1930s Art Deco locomotives, the Neptune is a hydrogen-powered truck with daily base range between 600 and 800 miles and a “Studio Space” cab with a modernistic take on driving and work, with amenities allowing drivers to cook, shower and sleep in comfort.

Edward Lee, head of Hyundai’s Commercial Vehicle Business, noted in remarks at a press conference during NACV that Hyundai has a long-established reputation as a global leader in fuel cell technology, going all the way back to its initial hydrogen commercial vehicle which debuted in Germany in 2006. In 2013, Lee noted, Hyundai launched the first mass-produced and commercially available fuel cell electric vehicle. In 2018, Hyundai launched the dedicated FCEV, NEXO. And December 2018, Hyundai invested $6.4 billion to accelerate the development of a hydrogen society, looking beyond passenger vehicles.

“Today at this show, by showing HDC-6 Neptune, the first hydrogen-only concept for Hyundai Motor Company’s commercial vehicles, we will start exploring opportunities in the United States commercial vehicle market,” Lee said. “Furthermore, we are willing to work with other partners to pave the way to establish a hydrogen ecosystem for CV.”

Hyundai feels fuel cells are the perfect alt fuel fit for heavy duty trucks and long driving distances due to higher drive range, higher payload, less refueling time and ultimately lower costs, Lee added. He also noted that Hyundai has already expanded its global leadership in fuel cell technology. Through its joint venture with H2 Energy, Hyundai is commercializing fuel cell electric trucks by providing 1,600 FCEV heavy-duty trucks to the Swiss commercial vehicle market, beginning 2019 through to 2023. With Hyundai’s commercial vehicle entry to the European market, the U.S. market is an important next phase of the company’s FCEV 2020 vision.

Like the great Art Deco trains of the 1930s, Hyundai engineers sought to give the Neptune 6 an “inspired, function-driven design,” while looking for  new ways to combine both form and function to create an entirely unique new solution within the commercial vehicle industry, while offering a holistic global approach.

“The fuel cell powertrain gave us the opportunity to redefine the classical typology and architecture of the truck,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group. “The Hyundai Commercial Vehicles Design Team started with a white sheet of paper focusing on the new defined functionality resetting all standards in order to project commercial vehicles in the future.”

On HDC-6 NEPTUNE, the design team took packaging challenges and found new ways to combine both form and function. Due to increased cooling requirements, the grill of the concept commercial vehicle is applied as the theme across the entire lower portion of the Hyundai HDC-6 NEPTUNE. This creates a distinctive image while maximizing airflow. The grill concept also integrates the retractable steps, which are hidden in the side of the truck. Hyundai said the combination of both cab over engine and conventional truck formats achieves packaging efficiency and improved ergonomics.

Although access to the vehicle’s cab wasn’t permitted, Hyundai showed graphic renderings detailing a clean, modern interior with swivel seating, large, tablet-like display screens, brightly lit heads-up display images on the front windshield and a large, panoramic front windshield. The roomy, “studio-like” interior also has enough space to accommodate a small kitchen and bathroom area with shower, as well as comfortable sleeping arrangements, advancements Hyundai said would help fleets require and retain drivers.

Currently, Hyundai intends to continue refining the fuel technology on the Neptune 6, while evaluating its performance as well as reaction from fleets and potential buyers. To date, the company stresses it is only considering an eventual entry into the North American truck market, but declined to give a firm timeline for any decision on doing so.

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