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Hyundai takes the green bus

Tickets please: Hyundai’s battery-powered Elec City bus shares many components with the company’s hydrogen fuel-cell equivalent that is now being rolled out to transport authorities in South Korea.

Hydrogen FCEV and battery-electric buses ramp up at Hyundai as diesel, CNG wane

8 Mar 2018

HYUNDAI Motor is having an each-way bet as it wades into what is shaping up as the most fiercely contested battleground for emissions-free vehicles in the post-diesel era: urban buses.

The South Korean giant has started production of both hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and battery-electric buses as alternative to fossil-fuel vehicles, initially for its domestic market.

Hyundai’s Australian arm is paying close attention to the developments, and although current-generation Hyundai buses are not suitable for Australia, the local branch says it is “definitely pushing” for development of a suitable fuel-cell bus for Australian cities.

In South Korea, Hyundai is flat-out fulfilling a contract with the government to supply hydrogen fuel-cell buses to replace 26,000 urban buses that run on compressed natural gas – a project that is expected to take years.

A network of 200 hydrogen refuelling stations is being built to refuel the buses which have been trialled in the southern city of Ulsan – home to Hyundai vehicle and ship-building factories.

Hyundai Motor Company Australia general manager for external affairs Bill Thomas told GoAuto that Hyundai’s bus manufacturing operations were “buried” in filling the huge order, meaning export markets such as Australia were on hold.

However, Hyundai appears to be laying the groundwork for such an eventuality by registering the Elec City trademark globally.

Elec City appears to cover both fuel-cell and battery-electric buses, which share many identical components such as a common platform and electric motors.

Hyundai’s all-electric bus that is just going into production now is equipped with a 256kWh lithium-polymer battery that can drive the bus 290km on a full charge. A half-hour charge on a high-power charger will deliver enough electricity to run for 170km, meaning little down time.

In South Korea, Hyundai and the government have taken a bet on hydrogen as the fuel of the future, which is not so difficult if the bus stations are all equipped with hydrogen refuelling stations.

Elsewhere in the world, battery-electric buses are in favour. China is by far the biggest market for such vehicles, with an estimated 200,000 electric commercial vehicles – most of them buses – registered last year.

In the city of Shenzhen, the entire fleet of 16,359 city buses has been replaced by EV units.

The rapidly growing electric-vehicle market in China, up 71 per cent in 2017, along with the lion’s share of lithium-ion battery production, is expected to put Chinese bus manufacturers at the forefront of the battery bus push.

In Europe where diesel is fast becoming history, major cities such as London have already started rolling out electric buses on major routes.

Madrid, Paris, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Milan and many more cities have already signalled their intention to ban diesel in as little as two years, meaning transport companies are scrambling to find alternatives.

Quick advances of battery technology and a lack of hydrogen infrastructure are giving battery-powered electric buses the upper hand in China and Europe, while South Korea and Japan are leaning towards hydrogen.

Either way, manufacturers such as Hyundai can jump either way with buses such as Elec City.

The company is taking a similar approach to passenger cars, launching fuel-cell vehicles such as the Nexo alongside electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles such as the Ioniq and Kona Electruc.

The Ioniq is currently having a “soft launch” in Australia where it is only available to fleets.

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