Hyundai Nexo nets NCAP milestone

Becomes the first hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle to get five-star NCAP crash rating

The Hyundai Nexo has scored a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, becoming the first hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (HFCV) to do so.

The Korean tech leader scored 94 per cent for Adult Occupant protection, 87 per cent for Child Occupant protection, 67 per cent for Pedestrian protection and 80 per cent for its Safety Assistance features. More here.

In scoring five stars, the Nexo may also help change perceptions around HFCV safety, and highlight how good companies are getting at storing a volatile substance at high pressures in a safer way.

The Nexo has three hydrogen gas storage tanks totalling a combined 156L. During development Hyundai repeatedly shot these carbon-fibre-wrapped tanks (about two inches thick) with armour-piercing rounds, and threw them onto flames, and crashed the Nexo into a wall at 80km/h.

The Nexo headlines Hyundai’s push into HFCV, though it’s also making 26,000 buses with the tech for its home market. Big commercial vehicles are generally seen as HCFV naturals, given the alternative is a huge and expensive battery array, with longer charging times.

Other companies such as Toyota (Mirai) and Honda (Clarity) are big on the tech as well, as is Audi.

“The fuel cell NEXO… points the way for future powertrains and Euro NCAP will work to ensure that safety performance as well as energy efficiency remains at the top of the manufacturers’ agenda,” said Euro NCAP’s secretary general (what are they, the UN?) Michiel van Ratingen.

The Nexo isn’t just a powertrain showcase for Hyundai, but a safety one. It gets the full suite of active partial-autonomy systems, such as Lane Following Assist, which keeps the car in the middle of the lane and alerts the driver in case of any unsafe movements at a speed from 0 to 150 km/h.

“The five-star rating of NEXO in the Euro NCAP assessment is further evidence of our industry-leading position in the field of future mobility,” reckons Hyundai Motor Europe’s VP Andreas-Christoph Hofmann.

Hyundai Nexo, what to know:

Unlike battery EVs, hydrogen cars don’t store all their power in batteries, though they do use electric motors. These motors are instead powered by pressurised hydrogen gas, pumped into your car just like petrol or diesel today, but without the emissions.

Pressurised hydrogen is pumped into the car’s tanks, passed through a membranous fuel cell stack where it’s mixed with atmospheric oxygen, and becomes useable electricity to power the motor. The emissions from this are H2O and heat.

It’s a BEV that has its own on-board power station, rather than needing an external powerpoint or fast-charger. This means that battery arrays, if you want to fit them, need only be small to supplement the system and capture the excess.

The key figure is the Nexo’s 600km of driving range with no CO2 or NOx emissions, and a refilling time of five minutes from a hydrogen refill station – a fraction of the time it takes to recharge even the most advanced battery array.

Naturally there are issues. Hydrogen – an abundant element that usually exists as part of another compound – is often mass produced through a technique called natural gas reforming, which produces a lot of CO2. Cleaner ways are there, just less commercially feasible.

It’s also expensive and complex, and requires a tricky infrastructure albeit one that big energy companies are keen on providing, as their presence on numerous hydrogen councils indicates.

The outputs are 120kW of power and 395Nm of torque, equivalent to a turbo-diesel. The 0–100km/h dash can be done in 9.2 seconds and the top speed is a claimed 179km/h.

From a durability standpoint, Hyundai says it expects trouble-free motoring of at least 10 years and 160,000km, and the Nexo will cold-start at -30C, as well. The company also suggests it won’t suffer LPG-style issues in Australian heat.

Australia

“Test and demonstration production Nexos are due to arrive in Australia in the first half of next year, with official launch timing dependent on the availability of suitable hydrogen refuelling infrastructure,” HMCA says.

That’s code for, ‘it’s a promotional vehicle until there are a few refill stations’. In the meantime, there’s the EV Hyundai Kona Electric, and Ioniq, just around the corner.

For context, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and its Council for a Strategy for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells has set a target of 160 refuelling stations and 40,000 fuel cell cars by the 2020 Japanese financial year.

MORE: Nexo news, reviews, comparisons and videos

MORE: Everything Hyundai

MORE: All hydrogen news

MORE: ANCAP coverage