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Hyundai and WeRide plan to drive self-driving hydrogen in China • londonbusinessblog.com

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While hydrogen is still a relatively niche market as a fuel for electric vehicles, a startup in China is jumping ahead to embrace it for autonomous driving scenarios.

WeRide, one of the most funded robotic axi operators in China with investors including the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, said On Tuesday, it will team up with Hyundai to launch a “self-driving hydrogen vehicle test zone” in Guangzhou, the southern metropolis where its headquarters are located.

The collaboration comes at a time when research into and production of clean hydrogen is becoming increasingly important a focal point for Chinawhich has strived to decarbonise its economy.

Details are scarce from the announcement. It’s unclear when the pilot will start, what the scope of the trial will be, or what exactly will be powered by hydrogen, which is considered one of the cleanest fuels because it combines with oxygen to produce only water vapor and energy. But it won’t be surprising to see unmanned hydrogen vehicles roaming the pilot zone, as Hyundai bets heavily on the fuel.

Indeed, the announcement says that WeRide, Hyundai and Hengyun, a Chinese power generation and supply company, will work together to “create demand for the use of hydrogen fuel cell batteries in unmanned street cleaning and ride-hailing.”

In September last year, Hyundai said it plans to offer hydrogen fuel cell versions for all of its commercial vehicles by 2028. The partnership with WeRide could expand the use of its hydrogen products to robotaxis. Hydrogen vehicles can be charged in minutes, making them an ideal medium for taxi transport if there is sufficient refueling infrastructure.

Guangzhou is a logical choice for the experiment, as Hyundai has been producing hydrogen fuel cell systems in the city since March 2021. When the facility opened last year, the South Korean auto giant set an annual goal to “produce 6,500 units, aiming to gradually expand production capacity in accordance with China’s market conditions and central government policy.”

China has taken a big step to electrify its public transport system. In Shenzhen, the hardware capital of the world, almost all buses and taxis run on lithium-ion batteries. While the city has become quieter with fresh air thanks to the initiative, battery safety and recycling remain major bottlenecks for local authorities. Long lines often form at charging stations as it can take hours to fully recharge lithium-ion batteries.

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