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Hyundai sees hydrogen fuel-cell tech in its N performance future

The Nexo N was just an April Fool’s day joke, but Hyundai is investing in a hydrogen performance future.

Hyundai is developing a ground-breaking new powertrain that will use a hydrogen fuel-cell stack as a range-extender for a battery electric vehicle, solving the problem of limited range in a sporty EV.

Speaking to journalists at the reveal of the Kona N, Hyundai N boss Albert Biermann said the Korean brand is working on a hydrogen fuel-cell range extender simply “because we can”.

“There’s not many companies around who have fuel-cell technology and battery electric technology, but of course that’s not the reason (to develop it),” he said.

“We’re working on a rolling lab project actually, where we have a high-power battery powertrain combined with a fuel cell, and in this setup, the fuel cell adds, of course, to the power, but also to the range of the vehicle.

“That is a nice challenging exercise for our engineers to squeeze a high-power battery electric powertrain and a fuel-cell stack into a sports car.”

Mr Bierman confessed that the project might not evolve into a production model to made available to the public, but it would solve the problem of shortened range in a performance electric car.

“We have not decided if we want to sell this really one day or not, but with this rolling lab vehicle, we are testing a lot of now, we are developing, we already have a few prototypes on the road and we want to also demonstrate the range of fuel-cell applications,” he said.

“You can have a typical application where you are running almost fully on a hydrogen fuel cell and where you only have a very small battery like in a hybrid vehicle, but you can also use our fuel-cell technology in such application, like I just mentioned before, where the fuel cell is not the key power source, but it is more like a range extender application.

“That is why we are considering fuel cell in a sports car.”

As for which model the powertrain could end up in, whether its something like the Nexo FCEVIoniq 5 EV or something all new, Mr Bierman said the future is still unclear.

“Our first prototypes, they’re based on an existing platform, but when we might decide in the future to go with the fuel-cell powered N vehicle, that might probably need some more changes to an existing platform,” he said.

“It’s not an easy job, but it needs some modifications.”

However, Hyundai has been experimenting with a mid-engined sports car since 2014 and the debut of the RM14 (Racing Mid-ship), which has now evolved into the RM20e – an all-electric rear-drive hatchback that outputs 596kW/960Nm.

Hyundai has revealed it is also developing hybrid and hydrogen powertrains for a performance application, so it is likely the fuel-cell range-extender will debut on a future iteration of the RM.

Hyundai N global chief marketing officer Thomas Schemera meanwhile, said the N performance brand would need to branch out more into emerging and electrified technologies to continue offering models into the future.

“Strategically we are moving full speed ahead with eco-friendly vehicles, and this is another variant, I would say as a primary source to use a BEV powertrain and on top to have a range extender, this is exactly what is sizzling when we are talking about N,” he said.

“In the end, this is one of our commitments and our agreements internally, we will bring all the appropriate and interesting technologies to N, this is how it is going to be and it makes a lot of fun and it makes a lot of sense.”