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Hyundai committed to hydrogen in Australia

Full steam ahead: Hyundai is putting the Hy in Hydrogen with its ix35 Fuel Cell, but needs help from fellow manufacturers, government and infrastructure enablers alike.

Hydrogen success needs manufacturer, tech company, government collaboration

Hyundai logo21 Sep 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER in Frankfurt

HYUNDAI has already commissioned Australia’s only hydrogen refuelling station and imported the country’s first resident fuel-cell-powered vehicle, but says it needs other brands to join the fight if the zero-emission alternative fuel is to take off locally.

Its ix35 Fuel Cell electric SUV is steadily gaining traction in other global regions, but until there is more public demand prompted by a feasible refuelling network, the South Korean car-maker says a production model won't work Down Under.

Hyundai is calling on other manufacturers to invest in local hydrogen infrastructure to garner interest from government and consumers, which it says is essential for the ultra-clean energy source to be taken seriously here.

Speaking during a fuel-cell feasibility demonstration in Europe last week, Hyundai Motor Company Australia product planning manager Scott Nargar told GoAuto it would take a concerted effort from multiple sectors to make hydrogen power float in Australia.

“It’s going to take government support, a cooperative approach from the industry and the infrastructure, and that’s only going to happen if everyone works together,” he said.

“State and government departments, oil and gas companies, technology and infrastructure companies, green-funding banks. Everyone needs to come together to decide what we want for the future.

“We’ve got to keep working hard with both federal and state government to get these stations up and running. We’ve done a lot of work to get this first vehicle here so we need to keep moving forward full steam ahead and encourage other manufacturers to bring vehicles in.” Following Hyundai, Toyota is the next manufacturer to bring a fuel cell-powered vehicle Down Under, with the Mirai large sedan set to arrive in Australia next month for a temporary visit.

Mr Nargar said that Toyota’s actions were very positive and that Hyundai would be happy to work with the Japanese car-maker in championing the hydrogen cause – including donating fuel to keep the Mirai running during its Australian stay.

“The very first day we got our refuelling station up and running, I called up Toyota and asked the guys to come and see the refueller and we can talk through what we had to go through to get council approval. They were great.

“I spoke to them last week and congratulated them for bringing the Mirai in. I think it’s a great thing and the more cars we’ve got here and the more manufacturers involved is better for the project. I’d love to see the vehicle stay and more vehicles come.

“Our station is open and we’ve got hydrogen ready to go. If you want to bring a vehicle in, feel free to come and use it. It’s open to all other manufacturers. The only way you are going to get the community and government to understand, and get investors in the technology is if all manufacturers are doing it.” California, Japan and, increasingly, Europe already have the refuelling network and regulations in place to make hydrogen power a feasible vehicle fuel, and Mr Nargar explained that any other nation, including Australia, could follow suit.

“The technology is ready to go. It’s about how motivated you are to start planning infrastructure. Planning is key,” he said.

“We can show politicians and the people who are going to fund infrastructure that this is real life, not some futuristic thing with technology still in development and cars that won't be here for 20 years.” With the end of local large-scale automotive manufacturing in sight, Mr Nargar said demand for hydrogen power would create a significant new industry and could provide new employment for many of the retrenched engineers.

“We are going to lose a lot of great engineers with the downturn of the automotive manufacturing industry, how can we regenerate those guys focusing on a different area?” “My key focus is infrastructure and how we can generate jobs in manufacturing, engineering, distribution and retail in Australia. We’ve got the best gas technicians, manufacturers and engineers in the world and there is no reason we should be buying in infrastructure from overseas.” Mr Nargar explained that strength in numbers would also ensure the rapid acceleration of the technology with greater power and efficiency, while offering consumers more variety choice – a defining feature of the Australian car market.

“Hopefully the other manufacturers come and join us and their cars start to roll out. The technology will mature over time and get better and better.

“A pair of companies have chosen an SUV platform and Toyota went for a passenger vehicle platform, which is great because it gives the market choice, and I welcome and encourage other manufacturers to bring other cars here.

“We need to deliver market confidence and that it’s not just a Hyundai and Toyota project and other manufacturers are doing it.” While Mr Nargar has been highly active in engaging in talks with the Australian government and has had some positive responses from various departments, he said he would like to see far more done to support clean energy innovation here.

“There have been a few manufacturers pull their eco-cars out which is a little bit disappointing but it’s understandable when there is no commitment from the government for people to buy green cars,” he said.

“It’s probably one of the only countries where the people that buy electric cars don’t get free tolls and parking and registration concessions.

“The best way to grow the technology is to support it and the easiest way to support without the government investing a massive amount of money is to do those little things.

“The technology is out there but despite Australia being a first world country and very progressive, it seems to have turned its back on this area of automotive technology.” Many European countries have already implemented incentives and concessions to encourage the public to embrace renewable and zero-emission energy, such as Denmark, which offers tax breaks on low-emission company cars, and many parts of Europe where free parking, charging and free use of toll roads exists.

While Australia’s various states and territories are yet to reveal any new policies regarding green motoring, Mr Nargar is confident South Australia will lead the way, with many innovative transport projects such as an autonomous study already underway.

“I believe the first commercial project in Australia will be in South Australia,” he said.

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