Korean President Pledges Government Support for Fuel Cell, Battery EVs

President Moon hopes South Korea can ride the hydrogen fuel cell wave to economic prosperity.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called Tuesday for his nation’s automakers to secure the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) and battery electric vehicle (EV) markets, promising government aid to companies who walk down either path.

“The government remains firm in its willingness to back up industries, such as hydrogen or electric vehicles, identifying them as the nation’s next-generation growth engines,” Moon told Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy officials at a year-end meeting, as quoted by The Korea Times.

“A state-level strategy is required toward the drive, with relevant parties―the government, automakers, and parts manufacturers―handling their role sincerely on their side,” continued Moon. “I am confident that Korea can secure its next growth engines and drive manufacturing innovation once we join hands over the plan.”

Korea’s most prominent automakers are the closely-related Kia and Hyundai, each of which plans to launch efficient electric crossovers in 2019, named the Niro and Kona respectively. Their powertrain components are nearly identical except for their step-down transmission ratios, which differ slightly. Hyundai also has a new fuel cell vehicle named the Nexo on sale in regions where its use is supported by hydrogen filling infrastructure, namely wealthy urban areas of California, where it competes with the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai.

Last week, Hyundai outlined a plan it calls “FCEV Vision 2030,” which will involve the investment of $6.75 billion—presumably some of it from government subsidies—and the creation of 51,000 jobs. A Hyundai spokesperson confirmed to The Drive that this costly campaign is not expected to conflict with its previously announced electric vehicle development or its program to refine the internal combustion engine, called SmartStream.

“FCEV Vision 2030 won’t likely affect development for ICE nor traditional battery electric vehicles,” the spokesperson told us. “Hyundai Motor Group will continuously strive to reduce emissions by improving efficiency in internal combustion engines and offering various zero-emission models including FCEVs and all-electric models.”

Unlike some automakers (or politicians) that predict entire propulsion methods to become obsolete or infeasible within a decade, Hyundai plans to develop all three major powertrain technologies for use in passenger and commercial vehicles of the future: ICEs, EVs, and FCEVs. In the case of the latter two, Hyundai is already competing for the status of technological leader, and with the possibility of microwave pulse ignition being used in its next-gen SmartStream ICEs, it may soon be a leader there too.