Electric Workhorses, Up Close

VW showcased its Crafter HyMotion cargo van.

Never before had a commercial vehicle show featured as many electric models as the 2018 edition of the IAA Commercial Vehicles, which took place from Sept. 20 to 27 in Hanover, Germany. Most exhibitors that had a booth at the event displayed battery-electric or, at the very least, hybrid trucks or buses. Vehicles powered by hydrogen or fuel cells were few and far between, though compared to past shows, their number had jumped up quite a bit. And, as a sign of how much promise they hold, large market players used the time to make some major announcements.

For the hydrogen and fuel cell community, the two most important pieces of IAA news were VW’s concept car, a cargo van named Crafter HyMotion, and Hyundai’s goal of having 1,000 hydrogen trucks drive on Swiss roads in the early years of the next decade.

The Crafter HyMotion, the e-Crafter’s fuel cell counterpart, stood in the center of VW’s main stage area, beside the I.D. Buzz Cargo, an autonomous minibus the automaker is planning to launch in 2022. Both, though, had yet to move past the concept stage. While the 4.25-ton van may not be a winner in the looks department, its drive unit could close the deal with customers. Reportedly, the vehicle’s underbody will include four large tanks that can store 7.5 kilograms of hydrogen, giving it a maximum range of 311 miles (500 kilometers). The idea behind equipping this model with a fuel cell to increase the range was to inject a bit of variety into VW’s previously all-electric product lineup. In an interview with electrive.net, Volker Becker, who designs alternative fuel vehicles at Volkswagen, said that the Crafter HyMotion would be the right choice for customers looking to purchase an electric van that, compared to other models, offered an increased payload capacity, a longer range and a faster fill-up, as well as the full performance envelope even in winter.

“Right now, this is only a concept car. But from a technical point of view, it is close to production ready.”

Heinz-Jürgen Löw, head of sales at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

A thousand fuel cell trucks for Switzerland

Despite some striking similarities between the design of the Crafter HyMotion and the H350 Fuel Cell Concept van showcased by Hyundai, the latter had been on display at the IAA as early as 2016, giving the South Korean automaker a head-start of two years to make improvements. At the IAA 2018, the company’s progress on the fuel cell front prompted In Cheol Lee, the head of Hyundai Motors’ commercial vehicle division, and Rolf Huber, the chief executive of H2 Energy, to sign a memorandum of understanding to deliver 1,000 heavy-duty fuel cell trucks. Meeting that target would mark “another milestone in advancing sustainable transportation,” Hyundai said.

Reportedly, the vehicle has been created from scratch and will be equipped with eight tanks capable of storing 33 kilograms of hydrogen at 350 bars of pressure. The tanks, which can be filled in 7 minutes (see photo p. 3), offer a range of 249 miles (400 kilometers). Initial shipments have been scheduled for this year, with more units to be delivered before the end of 2023. H2 Energy, a Swiss engineering firm comanaged by Rolf Huber and Hansjörg Vock, will act as the middleman and sell the trucks to its customers in Switzerland. The firm made its first foray into fuel cell truck operations by joining forces with Coop for a project involving the AutoStack unit developed by the German ZSW – Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Center. This stack is now part of products made by PowerCell (see H2-international, July 2018).

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