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Audi's hydrogen-fueled h-tron concept powers all wheels with electric drive

At the 2016 Detroit auto show, Audi revealed its h-tron concept, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with electric motors powering all wheels.

Audi h-tron concept
Audi's h-tron concept gives a hint of the company's research into hydrogen-powered cars.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Showing its research into future drivetrain tech, Audi unveiled the h-tron quattro concept at the 2016 Detroit auto show today, a vehicle using a fuel cell stack to generate electricity from hydrogen. To put Audi's unique stamp on a hydrogen-fueled car, the h-tron's electric motors drive all four wheels.

Audi used the Detroit show to make lay out its electric drivetrain roadmap, with the new h-tron concept its current watermark. Fuel cell vehicles are essentially electric cars, but instead of using stacks of batteries, they use a fuel cell stack and stored hydrogen to generate electricity on the fly. Toyota has been promoting the technology recently with its Mirai production car. Hydrogen delivers a driving and fueling experience more akin to that of gasoline cars, where fully electric cars require long recharge times and a different mindset to use.

The h-tron concept looks like a large wagon or crossover SUV, with extra ground clearance to give it that Audi quattro look. Concept elements, such as cameras for side mirrors, make the h-tron more than just a drivetrain study. The interior shows many of Audi's recent concept innovations, such as an OLED touch display at the front of the console to control cabin electronics.

With high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks at the rear and its fuel stacks in front, the h-tron concept has a stated range of 372 miles, which puts it almost up at gasoline-powered car ranges. The fuel cell stack delivers 110 kilowatts. Audi also equips the h-tron with a battery pack capable of adding 100 kilowatts to drive power as needed for smooth acceleration, getting the concept to 60 mph in under 7 seconds.

Audi North American president Scott Keogh said these fuel cell stacks are its fifth generation, implying extensive development.

Audi refers to the h-tron's drive system as "electrified quattro," with a 90-kilowatt motor at the front wheels and a 140 kilowatt motor at the rear. The system should be able to intelligently apply power between front and rear wheels to improve traction.

Although Audi announced no plans to turn the h-tron concept into a production car, during a press conference the company said it would release three plug-in hybrid production cars over the next three years, and a battery electric vehicle in 2018.

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