Surprised by Tesla’s success: hydrogen pioneer Hyundai relies more on electric cars

One by one, the already very few manufacturers who are betting on an electric future with hydrogen cars are moving more in the direction of electric cars powered only by batteries, like Tesla’s. BMW, for example, still occasionally speaks of fuel cells as a promising technology for cars, but initially wants to launch a number of new battery-powered cars. From Hyundai in South Korea, the Nexo has even been a hydrogen car since 2018. But after the company was surprised by the success of Tesla on the home market, according to a report, it now wants to increasingly rely on electric cars with battery power.

Tesla Model 3 best seller in June

In May, the head of the Hyundai Motor Group, which also includes Kia Motors, met with representatives from Samsung, LG Chem and SK Group, reports the news agency Reuters. All three companies also come from South Korea and supply batteries and electronics for electric cars, LG in China, for example, to Tesla. It was about getting enough batteries in times of high demand and limited supply. The topic was the efficient upscaling of its own electric car production, said a Hyundai spokesman when asked by Reuters.

Actually, Hyundai and Kia are among the few companies that have had something to counter Tesla with its Model 3 in Europe for a long time. First there was the Hyundai Ioniq with a small battery but high efficiency, followed by the fast-charging Kia e-Soul and e-Niro as well as Hundai Kona Elektro with a good 60 kilowatt hours of storage, i.e. more than the smallest Tesla Model 3. However, the South Koreans apparently underestimated the demand for it, which led to delivery times of up to one year.

Hyundai wants to improve this situation with an additional European production line since March. And according to Reuters, two new lines for electric cars are also to be created in South Korea, the first in 2021 and another in 2024; However, capacities are not mentioned for this. “Hyundai didn’t think Tesla would dominate the electric car market so quickly,” said an agency official. In June 2020, the Tesla Model 3 was sold more frequently in South Korea than the domestic Hyundai Kona Elektro, and also more often as a premium combustion engine from BMW and Audi.

Hyundai electric cars far behind Tesla

The then head of research at Hyundai said in a book in 2014 that battery electric cars were “not realistic” because of the high costs, Reuters reports. Hydrogen cars, on the other hand, would promise a “bright future”. In 2013 Hyundai launched the Tucson Fuel Cell, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen car. But the technology never really got going: According to Reuters, only 7707 hydrogen cars were sold worldwide in 2019, but 1.68 million battery-electric ones.

And perhaps because of the initially existing belief in fuel cells, Hyundai has fallen far behind Tesla, even with purely electric cars, despite early involvement with the subject. Tesla sold 367,500 of its electric cars last year, while Hyundai sold 86,434 significantly less. On the other hand, that was more than at Volkswagen with 73,278 pure electric cars in 2019. Similar to the German group, Hyundai has announced a number of other electric cars, including a sporty Kia crossover from early 2021.


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