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Fuel-cell support needs to start now: Elsworth

Early days: Hyundai’s John Elsworth believes that it is only the first step of a long journey for fuel-cell cars in Australia.

Hyundai urges government to begin long-term dialogue, support for fuel-cell vehicles

2 Apr 2015

HYUNDAI Motor Co Australia (HMCA) has urged the federal government to commit to long-term funding and dialogue with industry in order for fuel-cell electric vehicles and supporting infrastructure to reach a critical mass.

After launching Australia’s first commercial-grade hydrogen refuelling station in Sydney this week in the presence of federal industry minister Ian MacFarlane, HMCA chief operating officer John Elsworth told GoAuto that the time had come for all parties to commit to fuel-cell technology, which is widely considered a key plank in reducing the motor industry’s dependence on oil and harm to the environment.

“This isn’t about making money,” Mr Elsworth said. “It’s about having the conversation about the future motoring needs of Australia.

“It takes someone to actually step up, otherwise you can spend too much time in the auto industry just talking about today.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to be able to have a discussion about the next 25 or 30 years, and talk about stuff that’s going to affect your children.”

Mr Elsworth described the company’s commitment to fuel-cell technology in Australia as “an exercise in starting the conversation with government about what infrastructure is required and whether they are prepared to do it”.

“It’s a long-term discussion we’re talking about the next three or four decades and probably beyond.”

He also said that bringing in a production version of the company’s ix35 Fuel Cell car was intended to add a sense of reality to the discussions.

“You’ve got to have something tangible for them to look at and drive, otherwise it’s just a theoretical textbook discussion,” he said. “The next step is to keep engaging with the government.

“All we’ve tried to say is, ‘Well, this is what’s available, are you up for it?’ Without government assistance and incentives to either develop the infrastructure or to help people to buy the cars, it won’t go anywhere.”

The ix35 Fuel Cell is currently available only in left-hand-drive configuration, but Mr Elsworth indicated that the company had ordered more for demonstration purposes. While the left-hookers can be driven with appropriate permits in Australia, there is no indication as to whether the vehicle can or will be built in right-hand drive.

Mr Elsworth said HMCA had no plans to roll out any more refuelling stations, despite pushing for a ‘Hume by Hydrogen’ infrastructure development program that would link Sydney and Melbourne.

“This is the only station we have planned for the moment. That’s what we have to work out with the government,” he said.

“This (refuelling network) isn’t just something that we’re interested in creating it has to be done with the industry, it has to be done with the government, and there are a whole lot of other partners that need to come on board as well to make it a reality.”

He would not be drawn on the cost of the ix35 Fuel Cell or the investment made in the company’s refuelling station. The 10-year-old station was sourced second-hand from California, before being shipped to Australia and completely rebuilt.

“We’ve got more (cars) coming. It allows us to lend out more cars to more people to get them to experience it. We can use them to educate and demo the car with people.”

Mr Elsworth was adamant that while Hyundai is happy to kick off the discussions with the government, it could not do it alone.

“If someone didn’t do this, the conversation never happens,” he said.

“There’s no point offering a fuel-cell car without the infrastructure to support it. We’ve only got plans for this one (station), and we’ll use this as the conversation starter about how it works in reality.”

It is believed to have taken HMCA more than a year to arrange for the federal minister to visit the company’s facility.

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