Hyundai’s HDC-6 Neptune hydrogen semi-truck looks like a Daft Punk helmet
Will EV semi-trucks get here before hydrogen fuel cell semi-trucks?
Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a few automakers place bets big and small on hydrogen-powered cars, but we haven’t yet seen a semi-truck. But that’s exactly what Hyundai brought to the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta this week, styled with art deco influences and … also some Daft Punk influences by the looks of it, specifically the helmet worn by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
The HDC-6 Neptune is as much a design exercise as an engineering exercise, but Hyundai took the opportunity to make it resemble a streamlined locomotive from 80 years ago. And the automaker hasn’t confined its hydrogen fuel cell experiments to cars like the Nexo crossover — it’s testing a fleet of hydrogen trucks in Switzerland. (And yes, Hyundai has been making trucks and buses this whole time).
“We have cemented the fuel cell technology leadership position in the passenger vehicle sector with the world’s first commercially produced fuel cell EV and the second-generation fuel cell EV, the Nexo,” said Edward Lee, head of the commercial vehicle business division at Hyundai Motor Company. “With the introduction of HDC-6 Neptune in addition to the road-proven Xcient fuel cell truck, we expand our technology leadership into the commercial vehicle sector by unveiling our vision of how fuel cell electric trucks can resolve the environmental equations of widely used commercial vehicles and our commitment to create a decarbonized society.”
A “decarbonized society” sounds like something that would happen to a planet on an old “Star Trek” episode (“Captain, readings show they’ve been completely decarbonized…”) but to us, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have always held more promise as commercial vehicles than passenger cars, if only due to the fact that there are not that many hydrogen fuel stations in the U.S. This is why the only hydrogen cars that are offered by automakers in the U.S. exist in very small geographic pockets in California. And also because electric cars have a bit of a head start when it comes to the number of charging stations.
Commercial vehicles, on the other hand, especially buses, show a little more promise — an entire fleet of trucks or buses could use its own hydrogen fuel station. That’s where Hyundai is going with its hydrogen tech, even though Hyundai and Toyota have both placed stakes on hydrogen cars amid a substantial industry rush toward EVs. BMW has also dabbled in the technology, dating back to the 1990s, but it seems to have more interest in EVs and hybrids these days.
When will we see something like this on the road in the U.S?
Perhaps in the not too distant future because Hyundai is planning to test hydrogen fuel cell trucks in the U.S. But there’s no guarantee they’ll look like this — the Neptune looks pretty expensive to manufacture, especially that single-piece wraparound windshield. And hydrogen vehicles are already expensive enough.
As with cars, we think the real question is whether electric semi-trucks will get here soon enough to make hydrogen semi-trucks moot — the fleet-owned EV charging station concept is far more attractive to commercial truck fleet operators. For one thing, electricity doesn’t have to be brought to a hydrogen station by yet another truck, and it’s not as difficult to handle, either. (Our money is on battery-electric trucks, just for the record).