Hyundai: Worst of California Hydrogen Infrastructure Woes Over

Feb. 25, 2016
The U.S. arm of the South Korean automaker expects roughly 40 refueling stations to be open by the end of the year in California, up from 11 currently.

It’s no secret the road to getting fuel-cell vehicles on the road has been rocky.

Hyundai, which led all automakers in the current phase of FCEV rollouts when it launched the Tucson FCEV nearly two years ago in Southern California, knows that well.

“We’ve been the pioneer, (but) there have been growing pains,” Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski tells WardsAuto in an interview.

Hyundai does not release monthly sales figures for the Tucson FCEV, but an HMA spokesman says U.S. deliveries since the CUV’s June 2014 debut number 93.

That’s not a huge figure, even in the alternative-powertrain world where even some of the lower-volume battery-electric vehicles delivered at least 1,000 units last year.

Hyundai wanted to build 1,000 Tucson FCEVs for global markets by 2015, but as of last summer had leased or sold fewer than 300 worldwide. The vehicle also is available in South Korea and Europe, where it is known as the ix35.

Not helping U.S. sales has been a shaky hydrogen-refueling infrastructure in California. While the state is the leader in hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S., that’s a relative stature. There are fewer than a dozen retail stations open according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s station map: seven in the counties of Los Angeles and Orange, one in Fresno County and three in the San Francisco region.

As Zuchowski notes, when Hyundai launched sales of the Tucson, seven hydrogen stations were open, but they weren’t reliable.

“Some of the original stations were never for commercial (use). They weren’t up on a stable basis,” he says, noting refueling stations in the Southern California cities of Irvine and Newport Beach have had downtime. That led to reports of frustrated Tucson FCEV owners unable to drive their vehicles, which lease for $499 month.

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