Hyundai Xcient fuel-cell trucks hit the road in Europe, headed to America soon

Hyundai hopes to build and deliver thousands of hydrogen-powered, heavy-duty trucks to customers in Europe, China and North America over the next decade.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
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Antuan Goodwin
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delivered the first seven examples of its hydrogen-powered Xcient heavy-duty trucks to customers in Switzerland Tuesday with plans for a total of 50 trucks to hit Swiss roads within the year. The Korean automaker also announced that it's already working on the next generation of hydrogen trucks, which will help expand its fuel-cell fleet across Europe, China and North America.

The 4x2 cargo trucks are powered by a pair of 95 kW fuel-cell stacks borrowed from the Hyundai Nexo passenger SUV that convert hydrogen into water vapor -- the truck's only tailpipe emission -- and loose electrons. The latter make their way to a 350 kW electric motor that sends 2,360 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed Allison gearbox to the wheels. Any excess electricity generated or recaptured during braking is stored in a 73.2 kWh battery buffer.


The truck can pull a maximum gross weight of 36 tons including a trailer and, with seven 350 bar tanks storing up to 32 kg of hydrogen, the Xcient boasts a roughly estimated 248-mile (400 km) range. Recharges take between 10 to 20 minutes depending on the storage pressure at the filling station, roughly the same amount of time it takes to fill a diesel truck.

Hyundai is betting big on hydrogen being the best zero-emission fuel source for commercial vehicles and is backing that bet with a $1.3 billion investment (atop a previously announced $6.4 billion stake) to establish a global hydrogen ecosystem. The automaker says that the range, payload and service hours for its fuel-cell EVs are better suited for heavy-duty applications than batteries alone and are closer to those of diesel.

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"The performance of our fuel-cell truck for Switzerland is equivalent to that of a battery electric truck equipped with at least 600 kWh of battery capacity," said Martin Zeilinger, head of R&D for commercial vehicles at Hyundai Motor Company. That would be a 3.8 metric ton battery, if his estimate (and my back-of-the-envelope math) can be believed. "Battery electric trucks have charging times way beyond our fuel-cell trucks and sacrifice payload due to heavy battery weight," he said.

The Xcient fuel-cell trucks delivered today are based on the same platform as Hyundai's diesel trucks, but the automaker is currently developing a dedicated fuel-cell truck platform that will launch in a few years. It will feature two 200 kW fuel-cell stacks powering a more compact e-axle and will be available in 4x2 and 6x2 cargo truck configurations. Hyundai's also working on a 4x2 tractor with a 44-ton gross cargo weight and an estimated range of about 621 miles (1,000 km). 


The new truck platform will power Hyundai's expansion into the rest of Europe, China and North America. Here in the US, we'll eventually get a 6x4 tractor trailer model -- perhaps something like the HDC-6 Neptune concept -- the specifications of which have not yet been fully detailed beyond "meeting the specific requirements of the North American market." Reading between the lines, I assume that means a bit more capacity and long-haul range than the Euro trucks. Toyota and Hino recently announced a hydrogen-powered semi that can haul 80 tons with 300 miles between refuelings, leaving lots of room for the Hyundai to improve on range.

Before that big rig arrives, Hyundai will start out small here in the States with a one-year heavy duty cargo truck pilot program before ramping up to "a triple-digit supply of hydrogen trucks in 2022," according to Hyundai Motors Executive Vice President In Cheol Lee. From there, Hyundai expects to grow to more than 12,000 hydrogen-powered trucks of various sizes on American roads by 2030.