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"We want Holden back": H2X plots a homegrown Toyota HiLux rival as it promises its cars will "definitely be built in Australia"

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Australia's new automotive manufacturer, H2X, says it will have its first prototypes completed in six months as it promises a versatile hydrogen fuel cell platform that could underpin a range of SUVs, utes and commercial vehicles.

The brand already has a sketch in market of a two-door ute concept, but says consumer feedback has convinced them to add two doors to the design so it can deliver a true hydrogen-powered answer to the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

H2X is led by former VW and BMW executive Brendan Norman, who's joined by an impressive talent pool. The team includes Chris Reitz, a former Alfa Romeo Design Director, along with Alan Marder (formerly a Toyota executive), Peter Zienau (formerly of Saab and Chevrolet), Ian Thompson (formerly of Tesla) and Kevin McCann (formerly of Hyundai Australia and Volvo).

H2X already has firm plans for a commercial vehicle roll-out, likely to start with a delivery van or ride-share vehicle, followed by the launch of a mid-size SUV as early as 2022.

The brand had announced plans to use the name Snowy for its SUV, but as reported in CarsGuide, Toyota has now trademarked the name in Australia (in the same day H2X made its announcement) essentially blocking the start-up from using the moniker.

Asked how he felt about Toyota's move, Mr Norman seemed largely unbothered, confiding that the company was yet to officially settle on a name for the SUV, and pointing out that Snowy was one of a number of names in contention.

"It's very nice that Toyota is acknowledging us," he said. "I have a lot of admiration for everything they have done. It's nice to be acknowledged."

And now the brand has laid more details of its pre-launch blueprint, confirming Port Kembla in NSW would be used as its powertrain and prototype testing hub, with its manufacturing base still to be determined.

It’s understood Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Sydney are all under study, but one thing is certain, promises Mr Norman, and that is that all H2X vehicles will “definitely” be built in Australia.

“It’s definitely Australia,” he says.

"Of course we could be slightly cheaper (off-shore), but at the same time, this country needs to be able to do things itself.

“We’re very good at things, we have some very clever people, and I’m backing the talent we have to make ourselves competitive.

“There are great people here. If Korea can do it, where there is a similar cost of living, there’s no reason we can’t, too.”

While the technical details are still thin on the ground, Mr Norman tells CarsGuide the company has a versatile platform that will underpin most, if not all, of its vehicles.

He pointed out that a hydrogen-powered ute is definitely on the company’s agenda, with the only decision being which vehicle style to focus on first, while also promising the vehicles would be tuned and tested for Australia.

“The idea (of the ute sketch) was to get a bit of feedback from the market. Everyone told me it’s missing two doors. We’ll listen to the market and put an extra couple of doors on the design,” he says.

“But we need to work out which is the vehicle we bring to market first. We can put them all on one platform, pretty much.”

The size of the challenge doesn’t appear overly concerning either, with H2X suggesting the take-up of hydrogen in Australia is only a matter of time, pointing to the commercial-to-passenger journey of LPG as the blueprint.

“It stars with commercial, and eventually you’re then ready for passenger cars to come. There’s a process that we’re supporting to develop,” Mr Norman says.

“This is LPG all over again. It’s the same filling process, and we’ve seen it before. It’s the same application, it was commercial vehicles, then taxis, then we got to private cars. “We’re just going back to the 70s, we just want Holden back.”

Andrew Chesterton
Contributing Journalist
Andrew Chesterton should probably hate cars. From his hail-damaged Camira that looked like it had spent a hard life parked at the end of Tiger Woods' personal driving range, to the Nissan Pulsar Reebok that shook like it was possessed by a particularly mean-spirited demon every time he dared push past 40km/h, his personal car history isn't exactly littered with gold. But that seemingly endless procession of rust-savaged hate machines taught him something even more important; that cars are more than a collection of nuts, bolts and petrol. They're your ticket to freedom, a way to unlock incredible experiences, rolling invitations to incredible adventures. They have soul. And so, somehow, the car bug still bit. And it bit hard. When "Chesto" started his journalism career with News Ltd's Sunday and Daily Telegraph newspapers, he covered just about everything, from business to real estate, courts to crime, before settling into state political reporting at NSW Parliament House. But the automotive world's siren song soon sounded again, and he begged anyone who would listen for the opportunity to write about cars. Eventually they listened, and his career since has seen him filing car news, reviews and features for TopGear, Wheels, Motor and, of course, CarsGuide, as well as many, many others. More than a decade later, and the car bug is yet to relinquish its toothy grip. And if you ask Chesto, he thinks it never will.
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