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Kia ute or Hyundai pick-up to be hydrogen-electric? Brand says "you will see our solution soon"

Hyundai doesn't yet have a ute in production, but it's already working on a future drivetrain solution to replace diesel.

At the full reveal of its e-GMP electric car platform, Hyundai’s R&D boss has suggested hydrogen-electric will be the brand’s answer for future ute powertrains.

While the brand was keen to note its new e-GMP platform set to underpin Kia, Genesis, and Hyundai-badged passenger cars in the future would be scalable to large vehicles, it wasn’t planned to include commercial vehicles like vans or pick-up trucks.

When pressed on the issue, the brand’s ex-BMW M Division R&D boss, Albert Beirmann explained: “If you’re talking about commercial vehicles, pick-up trucks, you would need a double layer of batteries [compared to e-GMP’s current single-layer], but as you know we are at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell technology. We are the largest seller of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles worldwide. That is perhaps a better solution, we are working on it. You will see our solution soon.”

In a press conference on hydrogen tech earlier this year, the brand explained that hydrogen-electric systems are much lighter than their battery electric counterparts thanks to their range being derived from compressed hydrogen rather than dense and heavy battery cells. The brand said this makes hydrogen systems more appropriate for commercial applications where payload needs to be prioritised.

Hyundai's new e-GMP electric platform is scalable to large vehicles, but was not designed with commercial applications in mind. Hyundai's new e-GMP electric platform is scalable to large vehicles, but was not designed with commercial applications in mind.

To put it in perspective, the brand’s VP of commercial vehicle strategy, Maik Zeigler, explained: “To get 1000km of range with a 44-tonne truck, you would need at least 15 tonnes of batteries, the equivalent hydrogen system would not exceed two tonnes. Batteries cost US$150 per kWh, you can’t finance that for heavy duty vehicles.”

Earlier in the year Hyundai elaborated on its strategy of going commercial-first with hydrogen electric tech, saying “passenger cars are the wrong product” for spreading infrastructure and making initial significant sales inroads. It explained you would only need 10 to 15 trucks to financially support a refuelling station, compared to 700 cars for said justification.

In a way the brand sees fuel-cell tech as the replacement for diesel, but also a way of taking the load off of charging hubs and spreading the cost of research and development, saying without a passenger vehicle fuel cell program, it couldn’t support its commercial vehicle division, which just launched its first Xcient production truck in Europe.

After 22 years of research so far, Hyundai has just one production fuel-cell passenger vehicle on the market globally, the Nexo SUV, but when will we see any ute electric or not from either of the Korean brands?

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been a long road for Hyundai, with the Nexo SUV as its only production vehicle using the tech so far. Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been a long road for Hyundai, with the Nexo SUV as its only production vehicle using the tech so far.

In comments to CarsGuide earlier this year, Hyundai Australia’s former boss, JW Lee, said “2023 is our target year - it depends on the production and the plant”. Kia has also suggested that its version of the incoming pickup could actually hit Australian shores first.

The HiLux-challenging Kia and Hyundai pair may also come powered by the same 3.0-litre inline-six turbodiesel (204kW/588Nm) as seen in the Genesis GV80 range. Hopefully by that 2023 target date we will know more about whether a potential hydrogen fuel-cell ute is a different product entirely.