As you may know, Autocar was first published in 1895 when Henry Sturmey, founder of The Cyclist, a popular journal dedicated to pedal power, noticed the arrival of cars on the carriageways around Coventry. He was certain these newfangled contraptions had a future and, within a week, he launched a pamphlet on the subject. Autocar was born.
What is most astonishing about Sturmey’s prescience is that he made this leap of faith at such an early stage in the evolution of the car. Accurate records are hard to find, but it seems likely that you wouldn’t have needed to go much beyond your fingers, thumbs and toes had you been counting the total number of cars on UK roads at the time. Over the 120 or so years since, Sturmey’s reputation as a visionary has been cemented.
Where that ties in here is with our decision to take the plunge and become the first journal in the UK – and possibly the world – to run a hydrogen-powered car on its test fleet. Over the next few months we will tackle head on the many debates to be had around why we have selected a left-hand-drive car based on a superseded model – and one that costs more than £50,000. For now, though, suffice to say that all of the answers lie in wonderment at the powertrain and what it can do for car enthusiasts today and for the future.
As a result, we’d scarcely be more excited had a LaFerrari joined our fleet. What the Hyundai lacks in hypercar looks and performance, it makes up for in the truly futuristic technology that is housed towards the rear of the car and under the bonnet. At the back – fore and aft of the rear axle – sit two gas cylinders in place of a conventional petrol tank, home to 144 litres of compressed hydrogen when full. To the front sits a fuel cell, and the hybrid battery packs are located under the vehicle.
The cleverest bit is under the bonnet, and as I type this description, I have my fingers crossed that I was concentrating while studying for my GCSEs. Inside the fuel cell sits an anode, a cathode and a polymer electrolyte membrane. When the hydrogen flows over the anode, it splits into hydrogen protons and electrons. The polymer electrolyte membrane allows only the protons to pass through. The electrons travel to an external circuit that operates the motor. At the cathode, electrons and protons react with oxygen from the air to create water – the only tailpipe emission from the process, and famously pure enough to drink. The batteries are mainly there to boost energy at periods of peak demand.