June 11 - South Korean auto-maker Hyundai says it has launched a new era of clean, hydrogen-fueled motoring in the U.S. In a high-profile ceremony on Tuesday, the company's first hydrogen fuel-cell car customer received the keys to his new Hyundai Tucson, although as Rob Muir reports, there are still challenges to be met before the technology becomes mainstream.
According to Hyundai, it was a ceremony marking the commercial debut of mass-produced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the United States, with local resident Timothy Bush the first customer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TIMOTHY BUSH, HYDROGEN CAR CUSTOMER, SAYING: "I'm really excited to be able to pack the kids and the dog and surfboards in the back and go to the beach or head up the local mountains, which we can totally do in this car." And they can do it in an environmentally friendly way. The fuel cell produces electric power from hydrogen via a process that requires no fossil fuel. Its only emission is water vapour. The car, identical in every other way to the gasoline-powered Hyundai Tuscon, can travel 265 miles on a full tank, but there are limitations. There are now only nine hydrogen refueling stations in Southern California, although Catherine Dunwoody from the California Fuel Cell partnership, says more are coming. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CATHERINE DUNWOODY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CALIFORNIA FUEL CELL PARTNERSHIP, SAYING: "So we expect to have over 50 stations by 2015 or early 2016 timeframe. So, it is going to happen very quickly from here on out. We have nine stations that are fueling cars today. And that will grow very quickly over the years." But as exciting as emissions-free driving may be to many people, observers like Todd Turner of Car Concepts say most consumers are still skeptical about hydrogen as a fuel source. SOUNDBITE) (English) TODD TURNER, PRESIDENT OF CAR CONCEPTS, SAYING: "You have anxiety for hydrogen, I know it's safe and they're talking about everything they're working on with the safety of the fuelling process and can people do it themselves and it is easy to do. There is still going to be people who are afraid of it, you are still going to have a perception hurdle to cross. There is the other issue that is the limited infrastructure. If you are going to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas you are not going to make it." But none of those issue concern Timothy Bush. He and his family see themselves as pioneers on the road to a cleaner driving future.