On paper and perhaps in practice, it is a partnership of equals, but it’s hard not to raise a smidgen of an eyebrow at the news that Hyundai is forging a partnership with Audi and the wider VW Group for the development of hydrogen fuel cells.
The claim is that Hyundai knows more than its partner about bringing the technology to production, having launched the ix35 FCV back in 2014 and the Nexo this year, while Audi in turn has several tech patents in the wings that appeal greatly to Hyundai’s engineers.
But while that may be the truth - and the argument that there’s no point in the two sides spending billions trying to find the same solutions has much validity - it’s hard not to be impressed by the fact that the VW Group, the world’s largest car company, with the world’s largest R&D spend, is willing to work hand in hand with a (relatively) upstart car maker that has been on a long upward trajectory for decades, without yet throwing off its mainstream reputation.
Practicalities aside, I’d say the kudos from this deal, then, is Hyundai’s. Emerging car companies have long cited the switch from traditional powertrains to electrified ones as an opportunity to shake up the established order and, while Hyundai may not quite qualify as an upstart now, I firmly believe that we’re witnessing a company being rewarded for investing in a technology it has had the foresight and conviction to persevere with.
The next, question, of course, is how far the partnership will take the two sides. The barriers to mass uptake of hydrogen-powered car sare simple enough to explain and sufficiently massive to conquer that they feel almost impossible: in simple terms, it’s all about the capabilities and cost of the technology and the near non-existent recharging infrastructure.
Deals like this should, of course, take steps to address both. With more brain power and scale, both the capabilities and cost should come down. On this topic Hyundai-Kia’s head of FCEV research, Dr Sae-Hoon Kim, is especially interesting. A long-term advocate of hydrogen as a method of storing and then using energy, he passionately explains how the company has made more progress in less than a decade than he imagined possible in a lifetime.