Hyundai Announces Key Step In Xcient Hydrogen Truck Program, Confirms U.S. Arrival

While EVs and the broader push towards electrification have certainly gathered plenty of steam over the last few years, it can be easy to forget that hydrogen fuel cell tech is still in the race (albeit at a slower pace.) One of the biggest names to invest in hydrogen is Hyundai, with the company revealing that its fleet of hydrogen-powered Xcient commercial trucks will begin testing on U.S. soil.


A Long Time Coming

This latest step follows right on the heels of successful tests in Europe, with the Korean car giant revealing that it learned a lot from the 11 months of real-world testing that the Xcients experienced out on roads across the pond. That included 621,400 combined real-world miles put on all 46 test trucks by real-world owners (roughly 13,000 miles or so by each truck.) Each of the Xcients was used by various companies in Switzerland, which allowed them to experience a wide range of real-world work situations.

But while the firms taking part in the study were pleased with the range and short fueling times, the giant elephant in the room was how the trucks would do in the U.S., where different laws and a smaller hydrogen network present unique research opportunities. Those include finding the right configuration that will work the best for U.S. buyers. Hyundai unveiled a tractor-trailer-style prototype a few years back, and it’s safe to assume that these U.S.-bound trucks will continue down that path with possibly some resemblance to rigs from Mack, Peterbilt, and other rivals.


The Xcient Will Face Some Big Hurdles

Assuming that the truck keeps the Xcient moniker, they will face some unique challenges in the U.S. As mentioned, the hydrogen fuel network in the U.S. is much smaller, with virtually all of the fueling stations located in California. This small web will put a crimp on long-haul distance driving unless Hyundai constructs a dedicated network of hydrogen fueling stations in strategic locations.

Another challenge will be creating a production version of a truck that can accommodate a trailer. Currently, the Xcients in Europe are all rigid body-type trucks that attach the cargo box directly to the frame. These trucks are commonly seen in urban centers but can’t do some of the heavy-duty long-haul shipping that a tractor and trailer can do. Achieving those capabilities requires more time and investment, especially in creating a formal tractor that can bear the heavy loads that come with this type of work and ensure that the hydrogen components do not prematurely fail from the enhanced wear and tear. 


When Could We See Xcient Trucks In The U.S.?

Hyundai did not reveal when the first units will make their way here but did confirm that the firm will continue to enhance the European side of the coin. Hyundai will be building an additional 140 trucks for the Swiss market in 2021 and hopes to expand that figure to 1,600 trucks by 2025. While Switzerland may seem like an odd choice for a vehicle development program at first glance, it all starts to make sense once you look at the finer details.

The country itself is smaller than California and has managed to create a robust hydrogen fueling network. As a bonus, the country’s road network is extremely advanced and perfect for real-world testing of the technology. Hyundai also revealed that it eventually intends to move the testing to other European countries. The final list has not been determined yet, but Hyundai reps have confirmed that they are currently eying Germany and Holland as potential locations for Xcient testing.