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Kia Borrego FCEV - Click above for high-res image gallery

It's hard to learn much about a car in 10 minutes, but when that's all you've got, you study quick. During the Hydrogen + Fuel Cells 2009 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia last week, we got to spend a few minutes in both the Nissan X-Trail FCV and the Kia Borrego FCEV. Both of these large vehicles participated in the 1,700-mile Hydrogen Road Tour but were rearing and ready to go when we took to the streets of downtown Vancouver for a quick spin. The Borrego performed a bit better than the X-Trail, but both managed to impress us with their zero-emission* selves. Find out why after the jump.

Kia Borrego FCEV:

The Borrego FCEV is, above all, a smooth, smooth ride. Starting from 0 mph and then coming to a stop are about the smoothest possible experiences you can have behind the wheel, enhanced by the lack of engine vibration and noise. The SUV performed a bit better than its hydrogen-loving cousin, the Hyundai FCEV (based on the Tuscon SUV), did when we tested it in October. The steering felt fine, but we didn't really push the handling because we never got to go more than about 35 mph. Acceleration wasn't as punchy as some electric cars we've driven, but that might be due to the vehicle's size (comparing this SUV to a Tesla Roadster or Dodge Circuit isn't exactly fair) more than anything else. Kia says the 110 kW electric motor is capable of moving the Borrego to about 100 mph. We look forward to testing that on a track some day.

In a vehicle of this size, there's no way to visually notice, from the driver's seat at least, that the powertrain is any different than that in any other vehicle. Everything is hidden away, leaving plenty of room for passengers and gear. The quiet SUV went unnoticed by pedestrians as well - a couple of elderly women looked pretty surprised when they finally realized we were slowly inching along, waiting for them to cross the street.

The Kia rep told us that the start time for the Borrego FCEV is about five or six seconds, similar to other production cars and comparable to what the Hyundai FCEV is capable of. Once up and running, a press on the acceleration pedal draws energy from the fuel cell and from the supercapacitor. The 115 kW fuel cell and the regenerative brakes can recharge the supercap when needed (yes, it says ultracap in the "Power Flow" picture, but that not what's in the car, we were told). The powertrain is the fourth generation of a system that Hyundai developed in-house and provides power to a 154 hp electric motor. With a full tank of 7.9 kg of H2 (pressurized at 700 bar), the Borrego can go about 315 miles. The Borrego-based FCEV was unveiled at the LA Auto Show last fall, and is currently undergoing testing in the U.S. and Korea.

Note: this image, which shows the fuel economy of the FCEV, is not accurate. It's just included to show what the screen looks like.

Nissal X-Trail FCV:

The X-Trail feels similar to the Borrego: big, hydrogen powered and quiet. The Nissan didn't feel quite as smooth as the Borrego, but was still miles smoother than an ICE-powered SUV because of that missing engine. It's a good bet that, once EVs and hydrogen-powered vehicles become more widespread, customers will gravitate towards them for the smoothness as much as they do for the alternative-fueled powertrain.

Speaking of which, the X-Trail we drove was the second-generation model (model year 2005) that is being used as a platform to showcase the hydrogen technology. What's notable about the vehicle was that it uses the very first hydrogen powertrain - motor, fuel cell stack, battery pack - where everything was made by Nissan. The company has used parts from Ballard and other companies in the past, but wanted to build one where everything was its own.

The X-Trail uses a 700 bar tank that is large enough to raise the rear seats some. When tested in the Japanese 10-15 mode, a full tank provided a range of about 500 km (310 miles), but the Nissan rep told us that real-world driving drops that by about 30 percent to 350 km (217 miles).

There is a "creep torque" built into the vehicle. This means that, if the vehicle is in "Drive" and the driver takes his or her foot off the brake, the vehicle will start to move forward slowly. This was built into the X-Trail FCV to simulate the type or car that most American's are used to driving.

Overall, driving these two vehicles showed that hydrogen vehicles present a lot of promise. The appeal of a big, quiet and clean SUV is obvious. But, there are immense political, pricing and infrastructure hurdles to overcome before hydrogen SUVs like these are ready for everyone, and by that time there will be great competition from pure battery-powered alternatives. If there was a hydrogen station nearby that used captured H2, we'd be happy to drive either one of these SUVs every day. Until that happens, though, we'll just keep on going for these little test drives and checking out what's next.

Our travel and lodging for this event were paid for by the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Great. So why the hell don't they sell them as EVs with batteries now, touting their "future expandability" to hydrogen?
      • 5 Years Ago
      If there was a hydrogen refueling station within 10 miles of my home, there is no doubt in my mind that I would want a Fuel Cell car over an EV... but since there is not... oh well
      • 5 Years Ago
      I guess that the payment for bloggers even on AOL is per article produced. Or even worse per adclicks. Factchecking gives no extra pay. Editor is an unknown term here and we all knwo this.

      As far as articles here go, this was one of the most interesting I have read in this place during this or last year.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The X-Trail feels similar to the Borrego: big, hydrogen powered and quiet. The Nissan didn't feel quite as smooth as the Borrego, but was still miles smoother than an ICE-powered SUV http://www.limousine-stretch.com/ because of that missing engine. It's a good bet that, once EVs and hydrogen-powered vehicles become more widespread, customers will gravitate towards them for the smoothness as much as they do for the alternative-fueled powertrain.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've always said to stop any subsidies to fuelcell, battery, army, nuclear, gasoline, platinum, medicare, arts, diesel, wheather studies like al gore, petrol reselling, arms trading, building explosions, corn ethanol, gm, toyota, etc. Just give subsidies for roads and schools. AS for these fuelcell cars just put a water electrolyzer in it for free fuel. I won't go see it in dealerships if it's not equip with a water tank and an electrolyzer. The hydrogen from shell in washinton and lost-angeles is already working with water and electricity. I said to put all the stuff completelly into the car and stop harrassing me with stupid delays. Put it now or dissapeer from the market like gm should do now. Stop any subsidies to dangeurous incompetants that scrap the biosphere and stop any car expenditures to any actual carmakers like ford, honda, chrysler, nissan, let these folks dissapear from our sight. Only consumers should speak and they are heading my way with 50% less car sale since 2 years, even toyota and honda are in the red now, LOL. They are heavy depressed folks looking for a dream wife and they try to destruct the biosphere to get rid of their sexual uncoloured behavior. Nobody like them because they suck energy from customers instead of building green cars. Remember the names of these depressed destructive subsidized folks, ferrari, brawn racing, nascar, mclaren, red bull racing, gm, ford, toyota, nissan, volks. All these folks are lacking energy for themself and are trying to destroy the planet cowardly to revenge themself because they cannot f&ck normally and plenfully. They even cannot plan the future of their children and wifes. They are .001 % man and 99.99% depressed subsidized mad business man and engineers. They will always end-up saying that they are not ready or that it's not them that decide, so if they say so then just don't give money to them and wait for real green cars from a start-up compagny along with tractor-trailers, ships, electrical generation, airplanes, trains, flying cars. etc.
      • 5 Years Ago
      How much do these cars cost per copy? Where can we buy them? How much does it cost for 350 KM worth of hydrogen to fill the tanks?Are hydrogen fuel cells a stop gap until EVs are practical? (cart before the horse there).Where is H2 infrastructure in place?How much energy goes into the H2 production?
      These questions need to be asked, because the answers will tell us H2 is no where near ready for use. One more question: Why are we being hustled with this scam? Oh and where is Gorr? Isn't this his subject??
      • 5 Years Ago

      Great article! It's nice to see all of the hydrogen coverage lately.

      Hydrogen fuel cell cars are making so much progress. And the technology in most of the hydrogen vehicles on the road tour is 1-3 years old. They are set to arrive at dealerships in 2015. The cost issues are getting worked out (e.g. a lot less platinum is being used in the new fuel cells). The only cost issue left will be economies of scale from mass production.

      Therefore, the focus should be on getting the hydrogen fueling infrastructure built.

      Here is my plan for U.S. Congress to launch the hydrogen car revolution. It includes tax incentives for the first 12,000 hydrogen fueling stations and 12 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.


      It's time for everybody to stop watching what is happening and start leading. It's time for the hydrogen car revolution to begin.

      Greg Blencoe
      Chief Executive Officer
      Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.
      "Hydrogen Car Revolution" blog
        • 5 Years Ago
        I wouldn't be so sure of hydrogen dominance in semis or buses. For shorter ranges, there's already a few commercially available electric trucks:
        I haven't seen a prototype hydrogen truck yet and much less a commercially available one.
        The traditional trolley bus is pretty hard to beat (no heavy batteries or expensive fuel cells, just a couple of overhead wires), but for places it's not feasible, I can't see why you can't build a battery bus (same idea as a truck but switch the cargo capacity for passengers). However, I will give you that the hydrogen buses that are running today are pretty good.

        For long range, large semis, hydrogen, like EVs, still aren't good enough. This is because despite the better gravimetric density, it's volumetric density still isn't high enough. So it'll still take as much space as a battery and for semis you need the space for cargo. And compared to gasoline, the gravimetric density still is too low for it to makes sense in powering semis. The same goes for airplanes.

        For renewable long range cargo, it seems trains are still the best option and electric ones already exist.

        So in reality both hydrogen and EVs have scaling problems, with hydrogen going a little bit further.
        • 5 Years Ago

        There won't be any hydrogen cars on dealer lots in 6 years. I doubt we'll see them by before the year 2030. These concept hydrogen cars are million-dollar toys, that are holdovers from the terrible Bush years where he pushed hydrogen as a priority (mainly as a gift to the oil cartel who own the leases to the natural gas pits that hydrogen is extracted from). You can bet all these hydrogen plans are being put on the back-burner for "ready-to-go" EV projects since that is where the money and the market is leading.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Man, for a green auto blog, people are REALLY critical of a green technology. Hydrogen Fuel Cells do have their problems and I agree that it may be YEARS before we see them in small vehicles, but in BIG vehicles such as semi's and buses, Hydrogen blows Electric out of the water. Hydrogen has potential and if these companies believe that they can get these things to production in the next 5 years... let them. The more green technology the better.

        Hydrogen can be created with clean energy also, in fact GE has a system which creates Hydrogen without using any fossil fuels. This is usually ignored for some eco-snobs who believe electric is the ONLY way to go.

        They are years away in small cars, but hydrogen has a future and people will be more inclined to switch to fuel cells then to evs.

        Most people think of EV's as being ugly design disasters like the Aptera, that trend needs to be broken.

        That being said, I still would rather have an EV, but Hydrogen has a future whether you like it or not.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Hydrogen is a stop-gap technology to fill the gap util Battery Electric Vehicles are ready for market. The only problem is that BEVs are Much closer to market than Hydrogen Electric Vehicles. While hydrogen still has significantly better energy density, it costs an order of magnitude more than Batteries not to mention the vastly higher infostructure costs lower efficiency. To believe that Hydrogen cars will ever be cost competitive you must believe that Fuel Cells will improve drastically faster than the rate at which batteries improve (which is not so far removed from Moore's law).

        Ten years ago Hydrogen was five years away. Ten years from now Hydrogen will still be five years away.

        Battery electric vehicles are almost ready for market. Some are for sales today. Over the next five years several models will come to market: Tesla S, Aptera, Volt...

        I have no problem with Hydrogen powered vehicles, I just don't want them to get a dime of taxpayer money because they are clearly not the future of ground vehicle power. We are not hating on hydrogen, we just don't want you to burn $125,000,000,000.

        In a few decades hydrogen will make sense for things like large cargo ships where power output is tiny compared to the amount of energy stored. (Hydrogen tanks are cheap, fuel cells are expensive)

        -Sean F
        • 5 Years Ago
        That article was typical for H2 promoters. Plans to lobby the government to spend money to promote and subsidize H2 FC vehicles and H2 fueling stations. If H2 fueled vehicles were so great and wonderful, why the need for big government subsidies? After all, the oil companies are the ones who plan to provide most of the H2 fuel and run the H2 fueling stations, just a small portion of their substantial annual profits could easily cover the cost of building out the H2 fueling infrastructure. But no, they would rather have the taxpayers pay for it, and they feel H2 fuel is too risky to invest their own money in it.

        Quote from the article "Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the only technology that can both be scaled up globally and meet customer requirements for driving range, fueling time, cost when mass produced, and trunk and passenger space". Apparently Blencoe refuses to hear anything about the Tesla Model S, an electric sedan with room for 7, luggage space front and back, a range of up to 300 miles, at home charging, special 45 minute public charging facilities, and optional battery swapping in less than 2 minutes. "Electric fuel" costs about 1/5 the cost of H2, per mile. Also, the Model S outperforms H2 FC vehicles with faster acceleration and a higher top speed, and it costs a fraction of any H2 vehicle. Best of all, the Model S was developed without any government subsidies.

        Arriving in 2015? We've been hearing that "arriving soon" promise for 40 years now, always more delays, why should this time be any different? After all, carbon fiber high pressure tanks are still expensive, and the Platinum needed for fuel cells is still extravagantly expensive. Moreover, EVs and PHEVs will be arriving from almost all major manufacturers years before them, they will be cheaper, cost less to run, and are more efficient than any H2FC vehicle. Sorry, but H2 FC vehicles will be rendered obsolete before they arrive.
      • 4 Years Ago
      We are simply waiting for a hydrogen powered
      limousine :D
      • 5 Years Ago
      ShaunneyCakes, hydrogen tech in mainstream cars is DECADES away. We only have finite resources to commit toward projects like these, and there is no justification or argument for putting that money toward something that is unproven and years away from practical production, when it could go toward "shovel ready" projects like EVs which ARE going into production now.

      As for buses and semis, I see natural gas powered buses all the time. I doubt a hydrogen powered bus would ever be cost competitive versus a natural gas powered bus. Again, the vast majority of hydrogen production is extracted from steam-treated natural gas..why waste the energy converting it to hydrogen when you can simply use natural gas to power buses? Same thing with HFCs, why waste the energy converting electricity into hydrogen simply to convert it back to electricity to move the car and lose 2/3rds of the energy in the process? Hydrogen tech is simply too inefficient and expensive to justify cannibalizing money from other projects. Maybe when we have Trillion dollar surpluses we can spurge on tech thats a couple decades out, but it doesn't make much sense when we'll be needing plug-in stations in a couple years. This hydrogen stuff reeks of oil-scam, meant to consume time and resources while the oil companies continue to soak up profits for another few decades.

      "Hydrogen has a future and people will be more inclined to switch to fuel cells then to evs."

      I don't doubt hydrogen has a future, I'm just saying I'd rather spend money on alternate tech that is coming into production NOW, versus 20 years from now. And what do you think the range will be on a standard battery pack by the time hydrogen vehicles can be bought at mainstream prices?? You're assuming their will be absolutely no advances in battery tech, while hydrogen goes all the huge scientific breakthroughs necessary to make them remotely cost competitive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        AGREED. This Hydrogen SPAMMING has got to stop. Lets get real. I'm all for new green vehicle tech, but it has to make sense. Hydrogen simply does not make sense. If anything, nat gas and EV's "are the answer". This blencoe guy should STFU and get his head checked. He is promoting the same vaporware garbage that has been around since the Bush era. I wonder who's payroll he is on??!!! The problem with schmucks like this guy is that they take the focus away from EV development for uneducated people that don't know any better and start believing his lies.

        Hey Glen, why do you think Obama ordered a cut on H2 vehicle spening and increased the spending on EV work???

        Should be pretty obvious. Go find a new job!
        • 5 Years Ago
        "We only have finite resources to commit toward projects like these, and there is no justification or argument for putting that money toward something that is unproven and years away from practical production, when it could go toward "shovel ready" projects like EVs which ARE going into production now."

        If private companies want to pursue H2, what's wrong with that? Are they not allowed to lobby our government like all companies/industries do?
        • 5 Years Ago
        "If private companies want to pursue H2, what's wrong with that? Are they not allowed to lobby our government like all companies/industries do?"

        The answer is in the same quote you highlighted. We should not be wasting limited government funds on vaporware that *might* be ready in a few generations when that money is needed right now for major projects (new smart grid, EV charging stations, wind and solar energy production). If companies want to do it on their own dime, that fine.
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