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Hyundai will begin mass production of hydrogen fuel cell cars this week

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hyundai tucson ix35
hyundai tucson ix35

Hyundai today announced plans to begin mass production of hydrogen fuel cell cars, as part of an effort to spearhead the development of zero-emission vehicles. As Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports, Hyundai will begin producing hydrogen-powered versions of its Tucson ix SUV at its Usan plant in South Korea on Friday, in the hopes of selling 1,000 models across the world by 2015.

According to Hyundai, the hydrogen-based Tucson ix can run for about 370 miles before being refueled. It also presents obvious environmental benefits, emitting only water vapor as it converts hydrogen into electricity. If widely adopted, the technology could decrease reliance upon internal combustion engines, thereby lowering emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

"The dawn of 'an environmentally friendly era'?

"We expect to realize an environmentally friendly era more quickly through the mass production of hydrogen fuel cell cars for the first time in the world," Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Kim Eok-jo said at a ceremony Tuesday. The company added that it plans to ship 15 models for municipal use in Denmark and two other units to Sweden as early as this April.

Competitors like Daimler-Benz and General Motors are also working on hydrogen fuel cell cars, but Hyundai says it's at least two years ahead of the market, due in large part to its proprietary technology. As with any new transport technology, however, Hyundai's hydrogen future faces some obstacles, with a current dearth of fueling stations being perhaps the most blatant. Ulsan Mayor Park Maeng-woo praised the company's announcement as a "milestone event" on Tuesday and promised to install more fueling stations across the city, though he declined to offer details. According to Yonhap, there are currently just 13 stations across all of South Korea.

According to Bloomberg, the car's performance also lags behind its gasoline-powered competition. The Tucson ix's engine is rated at 134 horsepower, and accelerates from zero to 60 miles per hour in just over 12 seconds. Bloomberg did praise the car's smooth driving experience, but stressed that its long-term success will likely depend on its price point. Current estimates place the Tucson ix's sticker price as high as $200,000 (compared to the $19,935 retail price of the standard Tucson), though manufacturers say technological advancements should bring that down to around $50,000 by 2015.