Lee is a 61-year-old taxi driver in Seoul. He takes pride in being able to support his two kids, who both speak four languages, and his wife, who gives piano lessons at an elementary school. But there is also something else he finds satisfaction in — his car that runs on hydrogen.
After spending his whole life working for Hyundai Mobis, an auto parts arm of Hyundai Motor Group, the retiree now drives a Nexo — Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell powered SUV. Lee, who preferred not to give his full name, is among only 20 hydrogen taxi drivers in Seoul.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Lee drove his car to The Korea Herald headquarters in Yongsan-gu, central Seoul to offer me a test ride. The event was arranged by the Industry Ministry and its hydrogen think tank H2Korea.
“Taxi drivers in Seoul travel about 250 kilometers to 350 kilometers every day, which is the same as driving from Seoul to Busan. The job is exhausting, and most taxi drivers suffer lightheadedness when they get out of the car. But that’s not the case for hydrogen taxi drivers,” Lee said, as the taxi cruised down the road en route to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association building in Seocho, southern Seoul.
“As hydrogen taxis are powered by motors, not engines, there are far less vibrations and noises. In my experience, the fatigue level is about 50 percent less than driving typical LPG fueled taxis.”
Lee even said that his car is as comfortable as luxury gasoline cars such as the BMW 7 series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans. And it did not seem like a farfetched claim. During the whole one-hour ride, I did not feel nauseous at all writing an article with a laptop in the passenger seat, despite all the stop-and-go driving in the highly congested traffic in downtown Seoul.
Lee also boasted about his car’s fuel efficiency.
Hydrogen taxis are 20-30 percent more fuel efficient than LPG taxis. One kilogram of hydrogen costs 8,800 won ($7.8). Nexo can fuel up to 6 kilograms of hydrogen in a single charge and travel more than 600 kilometers. To put it simply, it costs about 88 won per kilometer in a Nexo, while it costs about 120-130 won per kilometer in LPG taxis.
“People say there is not much difference between Nexo and LPG taxis, but considering that Nexo is an SUV, the fuel efficiency is quite staggering,” Lee said.
Lee said the government needs to step up efforts to promote hydrogen vehicles and awareness of them on the road.
“Right now, there are a handful of cities around the world operating hydrogen taxis including Paris, London and Seoul. This is the chance for the government to promote Seoul as an advanced tech city, but not much efforts are being made,” Lee said.
For instance, if hotels exclusively booked hydrogen taxis for foreign tourists, it would give off a positive impression and motivate taxi drivers to switch to hydrogen taxis, which will ultimately boost domestic demand for hydrogen vehicles, Lee said.