Mondial de l’auto: the hydrogen car is already in the rear-view mirrors of electric cars

Written October 20, 2022 at 10:25

Dim lighting, lounge music, shades of gray, all in a gigantic, uncluttered space … despite the rush at the start of the Paris Motor Show, it’s hard to miss the Hopium stand, which presents itself as “the leading manufacturer, French high-end hydrogen vehicles”.

In the center of the stage, the main interested party: the “Machina vision”, the company’s first sedan. All around, a fascinated public and to answer questions, a certain Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, former minister delegate for transport from the previous Macron five-year period and now chairman of the board of the brand.

Green hydrogen sports sedan

“This green hydrogen sedan has a 1,000 km range, 500 horsepower and can go from 0 to 100 km/h in 5 seconds. All this with zero carbon dioxide emissions and a full tank in 3 minutes, like a petrol car,” explains the person in question. What about the price of the vehicle? “120,000 euros. It is certainly expensive, but it is a first step. Since green hydrogen is intended to develop in different sectors, not only the car, we are convinced of the reduction in production costs over time. With other models more available in the future .”

Founded in October 2019 by Olivier Lombard, the company is looking to its future in a big way. “We are aiming for 1 billion euros in revenue by 2030 and we hope to produce up to 8,000 vehicles a year by then. They will come out of our future factory in Normandy. The idea is to manufacture as much as possible in France and to take advantage of the Seines axis between Le Havre and Paris to deliver the vehicles”, explains this former driver of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Hopium can already count on financial support of 95 million euros, of which 70 comes from LDA Capital and Atlas Capital, two funds based in the United States, one of the target markets, along with Europe and Asia. For now, the team of 160 Hopium employees is working on the first deliveries of the sedan, scheduled for 2025, when pre-sales are already open.

A French-Moroccan builder

Take its place in a future market and a priori complementary to battery-powered electric cars. This is also the strategy adopted by NamX, a Franco-Moroccan manufacturer founded in 2017 by a former Volkswagen sales manager Faouzi Annajah and the designer Thomas de Lussac. At their stand, they are unveiling “The NamX HUV”, a green hydrogen SUV, with a claimed range of 800km. To achieve this, the manufacturer has developed a mobile charging system called “CapXtores”, which is connected to a classic H2 tank.

The idea: to overcome the problem of the current lack of hydrogen stations and allow the user to drive continuously for as long as possible. A central question of use for most future customers. Loaded into a sort of dispenser, the capsules are inserted by hand in the back of the vehicle.

“A hydrogen station costs between 3 and 10 million euros, so it will take time to install. We therefore responded to this problem with this system, which is 50 times cheaper and easier to install,” says Faouzi Annajah.

Pre-sales of the NamX SUV are open for delivery in 2025, at a price of between 65,000 and 95,000 euros, depending on the version, 350 or 550 horsepower. On the financing side, the founder expects a fundraising of 700 million euros by the end of the year. The goal in 2030: to reach no less than 4 billion euros in revenue.

Utilities, the leading market for automotive hydrogen

If Hopium and NamX are the bridgeheads for the hydrogen passenger car show, it must be remembered that professional vehicles (trucks, vans, buses, etc.) will undoubtedly be the real beneficiaries of this carbon-free energy.

“With larger refueling sites and more intensive use on the back of reduced CO2 emissions, commercial vehicles are the largest market for automotive hydrogen,” says David Holderbach, CEO of Hyvia, joint venture of Renault and American Plug power, born in June 2021.

The automotive sector will benefit from green hydrogen, but will not be its first customer

Stéphane Siebert Director of Technological Research at CEA

Presented him the “Renault Master Van H2-TECH”, the first mass-produced utility vehicle that combines electric power and hydrogen. Features shown: 400 km range, 90 km/h maximum speed, 6.4 kg of hydrogen that can be stored, at a price of 100,000 euros. The van, announced for 2023, will be produced at three French locations.

“Plug’s expertise in charging stations is one of the keys to our H2 utilities. The delivery and logistics companies we address will be able to refuel in 3 minutes in their warehouses. This is a significant time saving compared to electric charging,” says the CEO of Hyvia, which aims for a 30% market share by 2030.

The station problem

Building its own hydrogen stations is the strategy Hype launched in Paris in 2015 on the occasion of COP 21. The company operates on all fronts: production of green hydrogen via industrial partnerships, use, by operating 160 H2 taxis and distribution, with 7 stations by the end of 2022 and 26 in 2024.

The company works with Hydrogen Refueling Solutions, McPhy, Air Liquide, its strategic partners to produce and store green fuel. The three companies are also present at the fair together with Symbio and Plastic Omnium, designers among others of hydrogen fuel cells.

“We want to be the first network at the right scale for the distribution of green hydrogen in France. The idea is to allow mobility professionals, such as taxis, but also last-mile logisticians, heavy goods vehicles and public services to switch to zero emissions without waiting too long,” says Matthieu Gardies, CEO and founder of hyped.

Uncertainties…

It prevents. With only 61 filling stations in France supplying the promising fuel, the hydrogen car sector still has a long way to go to really take off. Stéphane Siebert, Director of Technological Research at the Atomic Energy Commission, shares his analysis: “It is above all the decarbonisation of industry, the first driving force behind green hydrogen. The automotive sector will benefit from this transition, but will not be its first customer .However, it is indisputable that H2 vehicles have their assets to promote, especially the few rare earths they require, a major problem for their electric competitors”.

State aid to this new industrial sector is therefore a good indicator of its potential. Latest investment to date to note: 2.1 billion to support the establishment of ten “giga-factories” that manufacture electrolysers, hydrogen tanks, fuel cells, three key technologies for this low-carbon energy.

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