While virtually every automaker scrambles to bring plug-in electric vehicles to market, Kia continues to focus on the fuel cell electric vehicle. Earlier this month Kia selected five consumers (from a pool of 17,800 applicants) to test the fuel cell electric Borrego for six months in Seoul.
Kia’s test drive program includes free hydrogen refills from any of the six charging stations located around Seoul and constant monitoring by a team of engineers who will work to correct any problems that arise with the test vehicles.
Hydrogen vehicles have been promised by automakers for a long time, but Kia has announced limited production for the Borrego FCEV will begin in 2012 and full-scale production will supposedly start in 2015. If the Borrego FCEV makes it to production as planned, it should carry a sticker around $50,000.
What can consumers expect for $50,000? Right now the Borrego’s range is about 282 miles, though a higher-pressure (700 bar) hydrogen tank could increase that range to a more conventional 425 miles. Kia is already testing some vehicles with the 700 bar hydrogen tank. A 0-60-mph sprint would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 12.5 seconds, which is acceptable for the target demographic.
Of course there are still a significant number of hurdles for any hydrogen vehicle to clear before it would really be ready for mass-market success which range from the infrastructure required to support hydrogen refueling to safety and cost considerations. There is disagreement about the best way to power the cars of tomorrow, but the consensus seems to be that the switch won’t be quick or easy no matter which fuel the market chooses.