CORONADO, CA – Hyundai foresees wide distribution of its forthcoming ix35 hydrogen-fuel-cell electric vehicle in the U.S.

John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says the FCEV, which Hyundai unveiled at last week's Geneva auto show, will be sold in all 50 states. However, he can't say whether the rollout strategy will favor coastal regions early on, as has been the trend with other alternative-powertrain models such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

The ix35, based on the Tucson cross/utility vehicle platform, will launch mass production and U.S. retail sales in 2015, Krafcik confirms to media at a Santa Fe 3-row CUV event here.

Up to now, FCEVs largely have been experimental or relegated to test fleets at universities and utility companies. The exception is Honda's FCX Clarity model, which debuted in the U.S. in 2008 as a lease vehicle priced at $600 a month over 36 months.

Krafcik says Hyundai plans to build and retail thousands of units of the ix35. The Honda FCX Clarity has sold a total of 40 units, according to WardsAuto data. Honda officials blame the underwhelming sales on the slowness of infrastructure development.

Krafcik is unfazed by the lack of hydrogen-refueling stations in the U.S. He notes the cost to install a station is $1 million, about the same as gasoline stations spend to comply with new environmental laws that call for the replacement of underground tanks to prevent seepage of fuel into soil and water.

Hyundai believes FCEVs are the best way to meet future stringent U.S. emissions requirements, he says, after debating the merits of extended-range and all-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

"I like the idea of a plug-in better than a pure EV, but there's just so much redundancy (in extended range)," Krafcik tells WardsAuto, referring to models such as the Volt that are powered by an electric motor but rely on a small gas engine to generate electricity once the battery pack's charge is depleted.

Plug-in models also are problematic for urban buyers, who often lack a dedicated parking place to charge their vehicle, he says.

Krafcik also believes plug-ins over the long term will become victims of their own success as low overnight electricity rates rise with the number of cars sold, drawing more power from the grid than off-peak hours can provide.

Hyundai says the ix35 propulsion system generates 100 kW (134 hp). The proprietary system includes a modular stack that converts hydrogen to electricity to power the vehicle’s motor. Performance is similar to that of a gasoline-powered vehicle.

The ix35 Fuel Cell can be refueled with hydrogen in a few minutes. The vehicle accelerates from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 12.5 seconds and has a top speed of 99.4 mph (160 km/h). Driving range is 370 miles (594 km) between fill-ups.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com