Hyundai — like a lot of other manufacturers, has been quietly toiling away on a fuel-cell program for more than a decade, and this spring, some lucky Los Angeles and Orange County residents will at long last have the opportunity of leasing a Hyundai Tucson that runs on electricity generated by an onboard fuel-cell stack.

The stack can be refueled in 10 minutes at a network of stations that will number 100 in the greater LA basin within a year. And the compact crossover will be able to travel about 250 miles on a fill-up. Best of all: Fill-ups will be free!

That’s right, the $499/month for 36 months lease payment ($3000 down, please) INCLUDES all the fuel you can burn in addition to what little maintenance is required, plus free roadside assistance (should your 250-mile sojourn fall short of an H2 station). The vehicles will qualify to whiz along in the High-Occupancy-Vehicle lanes, and because the standard Tucson loses only 0.6 inch of rear-seat legroom and 1.9 cubic feet of cargo space, it will rank as one of the roomiest, most versatile green vehicles available. If you own a light-delivery company with a service area that includes several of these H2 stations, you’d be a fool not to try to get one of these as your “personal” vehicle.

The fuel-cell stack was entirely developed in-house at Hyundai, and research dates back to well before the 2000-200s Santa Fe and Sportage FCEV development cars first hit the roads. Since then the company has accumulated over 2 million test miles, including 140,000 real-world miles on the latest design -- not including mileage racked up by the first to take delivery of the European-market ix35 Fuel Cell model that became available back in June 2013. The Tuscon and ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles are built alongside the gasoline models on the same assembly plant in Ulsan Korea. The system has been tested at temperatures ranging from -4F to greater than 117F, at humidity levels as low as 0-20 percent (also hard on a fuel cell), and at altitudes higher than 8500 feet. It has also survived all standard crash tests plus an 8-g sled test without going all Hindenburg.

It won’t be a ball of fire performance-wise either. The fuel-cell stack, lithium-polymer buffer battery (it’s not a plug-in, but it absorbs regenerative-braking energy to assist with acceleration), and related gear add about 800 pounds to the weight of a front-drive GLS. The electric motor produces 134 hp and 221 lb-ft as opposed to the gasser’s 182 hp and 177 lb-ft. Hyundai pegs the 0-62-mph time at 12.5 seconds; our last front-drive GLS did 0-60 in 8.7. But it should easily attain freeway merging speeds (especially in LA, where those often aren’t actual freeway speeds), and it tops out at 100 mph. The hydrogen gets stored in two 10,000-psi tanks, a large one under the cargo floor and one under the rear seat. They hold 5.64 kg of H2 (that’s the equivalent of about 6.7 gallons of gasoline), so if it lasts 250 miles, it’s averaging something like 37 mpg-e, but with Hyundai’s lease deal, it’s getting infinite miles per dollar!

Look for a web site soliciting interested lessees to go live about the time you’re reading this, with deliveries to the four SoCal dealerships beginning this Spring. If interested, act fast—only about 1000 Tucson Fuel Cell models are expected to come stateside through 2016.

Hydrogen Stations Open Now

  • Burbank
  • West LA
  • Torrance
  • Harbor City
  • Fountain Valley
  • Newport Beach
  • Irvine (UCI)

    Under Development

  • San Juan Cap
  • Woodland Hills
  • Anaheim
  • Mission Viejo
  • Chino
  • Diamond BarHawthorne
  • Hermosa Beach
  • Santa Monica
  • UCLA
  • Beverly Hills
  • Cal State LA
  • Irvine