As if you weren’t already aware, there’s a sea change happening to mass transport around the world with a focus on replacing diesel powered route buses with full electric or fuel cell electric powertrains. Though it’s still only happening in dribs and drabs, the move to electric power in some form is quickly gathering momentum driven by governments and other bureaucracies bent on emissions reduction in cities.

The charge is being led by China which manufactures by far the most buses in the world annually – by a factor of two or more.

Pretty much all bus manufacturers are developing or have already developed full electric and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), or both, with many in the final verification stage right now.

Numerous cities have electric buses plying the streets under evaluation from keenly interested parties.

It looks like `cheaper’ full electric powertrains are going to dominate so, apart from notable exceptions, fuel cell powered vehicles generally haven’t enjoyed the same level of research and development as full electric vehicles.

This makes FCEV less likely to come into general use any time soon.

It’s a pity because the technology is more elegant and potentially less polluting.

However, a major player in the electric powered commercial vehicle race is Korean conglomerate Hyundai which, among other products, builds millions of passenger cars each year.

Though there are scant Hyundai medium or heavy commercial vehicles on the road in Australia, Hyundai actually has an extensive range including electric and fuel cell powered buses.

Both buses are similar in configuration with obvious differences in how they drive the rear wheel mounted electric motors. One has a battery pack and the other a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity.

What is interesting is that hydrogen can also be used in a conventional reciprocating engine without the need for a conversion system. You just use it like petrol or diesel fuel with low emissions a side benefit.

Hyundai are leveraging their extensive research and development expenditure into EV and FCEV powered cars to develop buses and other commercial vehicles.

On a local front Hyundai Australia has had FCEV cars under test conditions here for a number of years even going as far as to construct hydrogen refill stations at various locations.

There’s a few electric vehicle or two stashed away at Hyundai Australia’s Sydney headquarters ready to trot out including hybrid Ioniq and electric Kona.

Hyundai’s commitment to emissions free buses for urban use was recently underlined when it started production of both EV and FCEV buses built on the same ElecCity platform.

It would appear the company is still undecided as to which way to jump. Having spent so much on FCEV technology they would reasonably want a return on their investment and FCEVs have benefits EVs don’t such as needing a smaller network of refill facilities as opposed to extensive recharge points for a pure EV.

For want of a better term Hyundai’s business plan for its buses is a bet each way.

The new Hyundai FCEV buses are initially destined for South Korean streets but that may change in the future as more production facilities come on stream and assuming other countries go down the FCEV path.

Because of its powerful position internationally, Hyundai is pressing for the broad adoption of FCEV technology. It is doing this through sales offices it has in most countries around the globe.

For example, Hyundai Australia is putting its eggs firmly in the FCEV bus basket pushing for an Australian compliant version to be used in our cities. Current Hyundai buses are not designed for the Australian market.

But this is hypothetical as Hyundai struggles to satisfy South Korean government demands for 26,000 hydrogen FCEV buses to replace their compressed natural gas fleet currently in use.

The contract is expected to take years to fulfil.

Hyundai has just completed a network of hydrogen refuelling stations in the Korean port city of Ulsan, to service some of the new FCEV bus fleet.

A Hyundai Australia spokesman said “Hyundai’s bus manufacturing operations were “buried” in filling the huge order, meaning export markets such as Australia were on hold.’’

Read into that what you will but the fact remains Hyundai is not noted for sitting on its hands when it comes to engineering development, technology and marketing, the latter point emphasised by their move to internationally trademark the name ElecCity.

The ElecCity brand seems likely to cover a number of vehicles with either EV or FCEV powertrains and could form the basis for component sharing across various vehicle ranges.

The Hyundai full electric bus that’s going into production with the FCEV version is powered by a 256kWh lithium-polymer battery that can drive the bus 290km on a full charge.

A half-hour charge on a high-output charger will deliver enough electricity to run for 170km.

In a city or urban application, this is more than sufficient range for efficient and economical operation.

That said, it would appear Hyundai and the South Korean government are backing FCEV technology in the face of broader support for full EV powertrains elsewhere.

As the world’s biggest manufacturer of lithium ion batteries, China is lining up behind EV power.

That country already has some 200,000 commercial EVs, many of which are buses.
Underlining the point is the city of Shenzhen where its entire fleet of 16,359 city buses are full EVs.

Europe would seem to be going down the full EV road to replace its vast fleet of diesel powered buses.

Diesel is fast becoming literally and figuratively on the nose in many European cities that are grappling with high levels of pollution impacting public health.

Smelly old London is at the fore front as it has already started rolling out full electric buses on major routes.

Other major capitals throughout Europe mirror London’s plan and have signalled their intention to ban diesel in as little as two years.

It is putting extreme pressure on transport companies to quickly find an alternative powertrain and that looks like being full EV.

Battery technology is advancing at a rapid rate which drives EV use while FCEV infrastructure is languishing apart from in South Korea and Japan (Hyundai and Toyota/Honda).

It doesn’t really matter to Hyundai which has both bases covered…. clever tactics indeed.
The company has numerous green car choices including fuel-cell vehicles such as the Nexo alongside electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles like Ioniq and Kona Electric.

Ioniq is already here in the hands of some fleet operators.

As for electric Hyundai buses – it’s a wait and see game.