Hyundai has unveiled a hydrogen fuel cell truck and trailer combination at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta, flagging a future entry into the US heavy commercial vehicle market for the Korean automotive giant.

Hyundai displayed its HDC-6 Neptune Concept Class 8 heavy-duty which uses fuel cell technology developed for its Tucson and Nexo passenger cars  and it further underlines. Hydrogen’s future as the power source for commercial vehicles of the future.

Hyundai’s trailer operation, Hyundai Translead was also a part of the unveiling, showing a clean energy refrigerated concept trailer.

The Korean automaker said the prime mover-trailer combination shows how it believes clean cargo transport will develop in the future. 

“Fuel cells are an excellent technology for heavy-duty trucks because they can provide a longer driving range, higher payload and less refuelling time than a battery-electric long haul truck,” said a Hyundai spokesperson.

Hyundai’s Neptune Concept revealed in Atlanta  has a retro look  with its styling reminiscent of art deco streamliner locomotives from the mid 20th century.

Hyundai says its Neptune concept represents  the same sort of technological advance just as those locomotives did back in the 1930s,  however the Hyundai concept is really only a mock-up at this stage and the company gave no indication of when it might be produced.

“The fuel cell powertrain gave us the opportunity to redefine the classical typology and architecture of the truck,” said Luc Donckerwolke, chief design officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

“The Hyundai Commercial Vehicles Design Team started with a white sheet of paper focusing on the new defined functionality resetting all standards in order to project commercial vehicles in the future.”

But Hyundai also said it also based its styling on function with the fuel cell stack, which generates electricity from a chemical reaction with the hydrogen requiring substantial cooling. 

The grille of the Neptune takes up nearly the entire front of the truck  to ensure airflow with the grill doubling as  retractable steps to deliver the best possible aerodynamics and practicality. 

To ensure  the best aero package the truck also has no door handles while camera mirrors are used  replacing conventional external glass mirrors, similar to Mercedes Benz which has already launched  the concept  on road going trucks. 

The kicker is  that Hyundai says  that while  there is room for up to eight hydrogen tanks, the fact is the company currently doesn’t have a fuel cell stack large enough to power a US spec  36 tonne (80,000lb) semi trailer on long haul routes, however it says it is working on larger fuel cells.

“HDC-6 Neptune, the concept for the next-generation fuel-cell electric truck, embodies Hyundai Motor’s vision of mobility for a global hydrogen society, innovatively developed applying Hyundai designers’ creativity and the company’s advanced technology,” said SangYup Lee, who heads the Hyundai Design Center.

Hyundai says it also sees improvements in trailer technology can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and claims to be one of the first manufacturers in North America to introduce a cryogenic nitrogen refrigeration technology trailer system.

Hyundai says it developed the refrigerated trailer concept in cooperation with industrial gas producer Air Liquide. 

The company claims the advanced trailer would produce a carbon footprint up to 90 percent less than a conventional refrigerated trailer.

It cools cargo more quickly than a traditional refrigeration unit and it offers precise control of target temperatures, while the control system and independent cooling power maximise thermal efficiency. 

Hyundai claims  that outside temperatures won’t affect the trailer and  that maximum power is always available even when the truck’s engine is off or idling and the trailer also produces less noise than a conventional trailer making it useful for night-time deliveries in urban and suburban neighborhoods where noise can be a problem.

“This refrigerated trailer concept represents a significant advancement in our continued commitment to corporate social responsibility,” said Bongjae Lee, chief executive of Hyundai Translead.”

The Hyundai announcement backs up the announcement by Daimler chairman Martin Daub that  the German giant is also pursuing a hydrogen futue and the unveiling of its Fuso hydrogen concept truck at the Tokyo Show this week.

Kenworth and Toyota as well as significant start up Nikola ( which Iveco now has a stake in) are all also developing hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks for the U.S. and global markets.

Kenworth is collaborating with Toyota building trucks in a project funded partially by the state’s environmental regulatory agency for use in shipping ports in Southern California with the first trucks due to start work this year.

Like electric trucks the take up of hydrogen fuel cell trucks could be limited by a alcak of infrastructure. Nikola plans to build its own network of hydrogen production and fuelling sites while Hyundai says it will be working with other companies to help developcommercial vehicle hydrogen infrastructure.