Now the VW barrage balloon's gone up, let’s make it a hydrogen one

It’s not just with comedy that timing is everything as Hyundai is proving right now airing the only commercially available hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in London on a daily basis.

That’s because, hard on the heels of the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal, the South Korean manufacturer is celebrating ten years in the UK with a 2005 mile ‘survey’ of London streets in its ix35 Fuel Cell SUV.

The car is on a 47-day journey to create a seamless photograph of the nearside view of every street in the UK’s capital city to mark Hyundai’s formation in 2005.

‘A Streetcar Named Hyundai’ involves driving, photographing and filming all 2005 miles of central London’s streets as defined by the black taxi drivers’ ‘The Knowledge’ – something the sat-nav reliant Uber driver will know nothing about!

Last week I took over a short stint of the drive taking in some of my old ‘Fleet Street’ haunts in the cramped little lanes circling the Inns of Court on the journey between The Strand the old Smithfield meat market.

Because the car is kitted out with filming gear to capture up to 650,000 street pictures and a 200.5 second time lapse video of the whole journey I had to keep to below 25mph and had time to reflect on just how great the impact of the VW scandal could be.

For while early adopters of the ix35 Fuel Cell will have to cough-up a whopping £53,105 for the privilege of saving both the planet and their fellow city dwellers’ lungs, this car could rightly be seen to be heralding a shift in attitude among the car buying public.

Many are still appalled that a carmaker the size of VW would stoop to deliberately cheating emission readings through software fitted to around 11M of its vehicles.

These buyers who, up until four weeks ago would never have questioned the environmental credentials of a diesel car, are now asking questions.

Some are pointing fingers at government and media who, some ten years ago, sounded off about diesel’s cleanliness as a low producer of the greenhouse gas, CO2. What they now forget is that many of us pointed out that while the oil burners were better for the planet, their carbon particulates and NOx emissions were more hazardous to human health.

Whatever, nothing changes opinion quicker than a global scandal and, for those of us who see far more long-term practicality and climate efficiency from hydrogen than from dead-end electric battery technology, a widespread reappraisal of alternative fuel sources can only be a good thing.

Of course, infrastructure will play a big part in the move away from traditional fuels and, here too, hydrogen has the advantage over fully electric vehicles. The ‘sparkies’ will require a high level of government and local authority involvement to install street level charging points, especially if any area adopts MINI’s idea of using feeds from existing street lights.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, only requires hydrogen fuel lines installed at existing service stations, just so long as the industry quickly drops the silly notion of generating hydrogen on site as Honda does using solar panels at its Swindon plant developed in association with BOC.

The plant uses about 1.5 acres of solar panels to produce just 20 tonnes of fuel each year. This means, on latest government fuel use figures of 2011, the average service station selling annually 27,000 tonnes of hydrogen just to match diesel sales would need a park of solar panels 2,025 acres strong… that is a whole lot of farm land disappearing beneath the blank mirrored stare of green technology.

However, at least the topic is now at the forefront of people’s minds when they begin thinking of what new car they will be buying in the near future.

This may, right now, only seem like the thinnest slithers of a silver lining to a great big nasty diesel cloud but it remains one the auto industry cannot afford to ignore.

Take up the latest in industry thinking at TU-Automotive Europe 2015.

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