Ready or not, here it comes: Hyundai (NASDAQOTH:HYMTF) said this week that its 2015 Tucson Fuel Cell, a compact SUV powered by hydrogen, would be available in just a few months.
Hyundai's Tucson Fuel Cell (that's its name) is actually an electric vehicle, but it doesn't have a huge battery pack. Instead, it uses a fuel cell, a device that extracts the energy from hydrogen, to make electricity to power its motor. Its only "exhaust" is water, or water vapor.
Would you ever consider owning something like that?
Before you answer, read this
Hyundai really wants folks to give this a try. Right now, fuel cells are an expensive new technology. But Hyundai is offering an interesting deal on its new hydrogen ride.
And it's even throwing in the gas.
Hyundai said it will offer customers the opportunity to lease a Tucson Fuel Cell for three years for $499 a month, with $2,999 down. That price may sound a bit steep, but consider this: It comes with unlimited (hydrogen) gas at no additional charge.
Of course, you'll have to get that "gas" at specially equipped Hyundai dealers. At first, there will only be four of those, all in southern California -- but Hyundai says it will expand the Tucson Fuel Cell's availability as more refueling stations open.
Why Hyundai really wants this to work
So far, Hyundai hasn't been much of a player in the increasingly important market for green vehicles. The Korean automaker has pushed hard (and spent big) in recent years to create products that are seen as peers to those from Japanese giants like Toyota and Honda.
But the Japanese automakers -- along with General Motors and Ford -- are all making big strides with hybrids and electrics and other green technologies like advanced turbocharging.
Hyundai offers a couple of hybrids, but they haven't made a big impression in the marketplace. I think Hyundai is concerned about being left behind. Many of the American buyers it most wants to draw to its brand, those who drive Japanese or American or German brands, may still think of Hyundai as a maker of "cheap" cars.
Hyundai has taken a big leap forward in the last few years in an effort to capture more of those buyers. Recent Hyundais like the Elantra compact have been seen as comparable to their Japanese rivals. But if Hyundai can't keep up with new technology, it risks losing its momentum.
The Tucson Fuel Cell may be Hyundai's way of trying to leapfrog competitors like Toyota and Ford that are seen as green leaders thanks to their focus on hybrids. If it's a success, then Hyundai might come to be viewed as a green leader, not an also-ran.
What do you think now?
It's an interesting proposition. The Tucson Fuel Cell offers most of the advantages of electric cars -- it's green, it's clean, it's quiet, it accelerates smoothly.
Hyundai says that with a full tank of hydrogen, the Tucson Fuel Cell will have a range of about 300 miles. That's comparable to the range of a top of the line Tesla Motors Model S, at a much lower cost.
Of course -- at least to start -- you'll have to go to the Hyundai dealer to refuel. On the other hand, refueling the Tucson Fuel Cell takes less than 10 minutes. Most electric cars with batteries have to be recharged overnight, unless you have a high-speed charger -- and even the high-speed chargers take a lot longer than 10 minutes.
And most electric cars with batteries won't give you anything like 300 miles of range. Nissan's Leaf and Ford's Focus Electric get 75 and 76 miles on average, respectively, according to the EPA.
So what do you think? If you lived in the area, and an electric vehicle made sense for you, would you give the Tucson Fuel Cell a try? Scroll down to leave a comment and let me know.