NEW DELHI: South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group is placing strong bets on electric vehicles (EVs) that run on hydrogen fuel cells, even as several of its global rivals sharpen their strategies towards lithium-ion battery-based EVs for eco-friendly transport.

“The final solution will probably be hydrogen. Battery electric will only be an interim solution. Especially when you look at the big commercial buses. We are now pushing hydrogen a lot into commercial applications as well. We have a project in Europe where we can beat combustion engines," Albert Biermann, head of research and development, Hyundai, said on Tuesday.

Others, such as Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd, have also been investing in hydrogen fuel cell EVs.

Hyundai has been developing both battery electric, as well as hydrogen fuel cell EVs. In India, it is expected to launch its first EV later this fiscal year.

With the growing focus of companies on EVs, Hyundai is expected to face stiff competition from Nissan Motor Co. Ltd and Volkswagen AG, which recently showcased its ID3 electric hatchback.

Biermann, however, said that Hyundai is leading its competitors from Germany, Japan and the US on innovations in alternative powertrains.

“If I take all this (innovation) into one picture, then we are very much leading (this space). In hydrogen, we are already in second generation and we are increasing production. This year, we have built 7,000 units of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles already. We started with the Ionic hybrid and immediately it was the best in the segment. If you look at our Kona EV, it has almost double the range per kilo watt hour battery compared to all premium electric vehicles coming out of Germany," he said on the sidelines of the launch of Hyundai’s sport-utility (SUV) vehicle Venue.

The Venue, which is Hyundai’s smallest SUV globally, starts at 6.5 lakh, extending up to 11.1 lakh. The vehicle will also be sold across developed markets, including the US, Canada and Australia.

The Venue will compete against Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Vitara Brezza, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s XUV300, Ford Motor Co.’s EcoSport and Tata Motors Ltd’s Nexon in the fast-growing compact SUV segment in India.

As Hyundai seeks to morph itself into a mobility solutions provider from just an automaker, it is exploring ways to make special purpose vehicles for fleet operators in countries like India and understand the business of ride-hailing services. The connected vehicle solutions offered by Hyundai will also help fleet operators run their vehicles efficiently.

Biermann said, in the future, mobility will shift from personal car buyers to fleet services. “We are now investing in mobility services because we can foresee a scenario where private car buyers will be less in the metropolitan areas where mobility would shift away from private car buyers to fleet or ride-hailing service providers. We have to make sure that we understand that business and can be a part of that. This is why we are making such investments."

Hyundai has invested $300 million in India’s top cab aggregator Ola Cabs, while it invested an undisclosed amount in Revv, a self-drive car rental platform. It has also partnered ALD Automotive, a vehicle leasing platform.

Hyundai plans to establish its presence in various mobility services in India and other markets worldwide, which includes offering connected solutions and electrified vehicles.

The company on Tuesday launched its connected vehicle solutions BlueLink with the Venue.

It is also expected that other products of the company will also be equipped with this technology in the future.

Mint on 2 May reported that Hyundai plans to make Ola Cabs the test bed for a new range of affordable electric vehicles slated for introduction around 2021.

“In some restricted fence areas, there can be early transition into autonomous cars and then you can make a robot taxi or something. At this point, we aren’t there yet. Specially in India, this will not happen any time soon but in other areas it is possible to make special purpose built vehicles for such applications," Biermann said.

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