Feeling like a pioneer

A comfortable (yet still exciting) ride

Sven Geitmann loads an Hyundai Nexo
Loading a Nexo

So far, Hyundai has shipped a total of 10,000 Nexo cars. Since launching a fuel cell model in March 2018, the South Korean automaker has delivered more FCEVs than any other vehicle manufacturer in the world. This July alone, an additional 700 Nexo vehicles went to customers in South Korea and 89 were exported to countries around the world. H2-international was given the opportunity to test a Nexo car this summer. The conclusion: If it had a lower price tag and there was a fueling station nearby, the Nexo would be the perfect ride.

There is still an ongoing debate about whether it makes sense to install fuel cells in privately owned vehicles. Still, it is becoming clear that the technology works best in large, heavy vehicles, since FCEVs are more difficult to build and maintain than their all-electric counterparts. A small city car will most likely be better off with a battery. But an SUV, or anything larger than that, could benefit from a fuel cell engine.

The Nexo is that kind of car: big and spacious, with good handling despite a weight of almost 2 tons. Hyundai Germany even delivered the SUV, which, like so many Nexo cars, had been painted in a copper tone, right to my doorstep. That was the beginning of my several-day road test.

A trip to the Danish border

I took the car on a business trip to the Danish border, where I was to attend a press conference. But first, I mapped out the route. Planning was key, as there were few stations to fill up FCEVs along the way. Not that the extra time spent on this bothered me much. I faced similar issues with LPG years ago, as well as with testing other battery and fuel cell electric vehicles in the meantime.

When I checked H2 Mobility‘s website h2.live, I saw that despite being a relatively recent addition, the fueling station in Flensburg-Handewitt was closed around the time I was planning to drive there. As I was told later, it was getting a new roof. So I picked a route that would, hopefully, see me get home without having to fill up the car.

After starting in Oberkrämer, northwest of Berlin, I headed west to test out the fueling pump in Hagenow. The Nexo’s fuel gauge showed that I had just 126 miles (202 kilometers) left. The prior evening, my adult son had taken the new vehicle out for a spin, giving him something to boast about to his friends. I was not in a hurry, however, so I limited my speed to 78 miles (120 kilometers) an hour and was well on my way. Both H2 Mobility’s website and app provide a user-friendly experience. Connected to a route planner, they not only list the addresses and the distance to nearby fueling sites but also show the kilometers travelled.

One thing that confused me a bit was that the Nexo’s navigation system failed to find the fueling station I had chosen. But after making the last turn and seeing the station in front of me, I was relieved to know that my trust in the H2-Live app was not misplaced. While hydrogen had yet to be added to the site’s price sign, the white-and-blue pump was clearly visible from afar. However, following my first unsuccessful attempt at refueling, I was getting somewhat worried. I knew that if the car did not fill up, I would not make it to Hamburg.

I looked over to the gas station attendant for help. However, she only pointed me to the manual and the hotline. My second try got another 0.3 kilograms into the tank, at least. The third saw me add 0.2 kilograms, the subsequent attempt only 0.15 kilograms. During my last attempt, when I had all but given up, the compressors finally responded like they should have all along and 700-bar hydrogen was pumped into the tank. Phew, I thought to myself, what a stroke of luck. Else, I would have been in serious trouble. Hamburg’s fueling station in the HafenCity district had been my fallback option to fill up the car. But as I found out later, that station was out of order at the time. As the one on Schnackenburgallee had also been shut down, there would have been only two other options I could have tried. But making it to one of them would have hardly been possible, considering how much fuel that would have used up.

None of this mattered now. The tank was full. With the car showing a range of 353 miles (568 kilometers), I finally stepped on the gas. After leaving Hamburg, I headed toward my old home, taking a small detour to the Elbe, and to Brunsbüttel to fill up the tank again. The navigation system did not display this station either, even though the on-site pump worked like a charm. From there, I drove north to Bosbüll, where German transportation minister Andreas Scheuer was about to inaugurate the eFarm project.

You are not alone

Following the press conference, I went for a short drive to Tønder on the Danish side of the border before heading back to Hamburg via Schleswig and Eckernförde. Meanwhile, the HafenCity’s station in Hamburg had been fixed. But I decided to fill up at another one of the city’s fueling sites, the one on Bramfelder Chaussee, as I had never used it before. To my surprise, a second Nexo driver was already waiting impatiently for me to come back after I went to the bathroom. Even when I need to fill up LPG, for which there is also no more than one pump per site, I very rarely see someone else standing in line.

When I was back in Berlin, the same thing happened again. There, too, another Nexo was suddenly coming up next to me. When I told the driver that my car’s tank was only up to 90 percent full, he promptly replied that he just came from Magdeburg, where the hydrogen station was inoperative so he will gladly take every kilogram he can get.

There is not a lot left to say about the Nexo (see H2-international, January 2019). It is quiet, very comfortable and easy to control. The only thing that may raise some eyebrows during an otherwise laid-back ride is that the hood begins to “flutter” noticeably when going more than 90 miles (around 150 kilometers) per hour.

Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai’s all-electric model, the Kona Elektro, is priced at EUR 41,850 and is a bit smaller, which leads to improved handling. While the Nexo seems pretty massive, driving the 64-kilowatt-hour Kona feels more like being in a sports car. Its 300-mile or 484-kilometer range is also quite impressive for a battery-powered vehicle.

Sae Hoon Kim, head of Hyundai’s fuel cell division, told the Welt newspaper:

“This year, we are planning to produce 13,000 Nexo vehicles, and we will keep increasing annual production capacity in the coming years.”

He added that in 2025, the SUV – which currently has a price tag of EUR 77,000 – should cost around as much as an all-electric vehicle (see box).

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