March 27, 2023

Hydrogen-powered startups shine at the Paris Motor Show

Enlarge / Olivier Lombard stands next to the Hopium Machina.

Dhananjay Khadilkar

PARIS – 500 hp (373 kW) car with a range of 621 miles (1000 km) and a top speed of 230 km/h; the world’s first car powered by partially removable tanks… The stylish and innovative Hopium Machina and the NAMX SUV, both hydrogen-powered vehicles developed by startup companies, were the main attractions of this year’s Paris Motor Show.

Given that Hopium was founded by a former Le Mans 24 Hours winner, it’s no surprise that Machina is performance focused. Olivier Lombard, who won the LMP2 class in 2011 at Le Mans, was also the development driver for the H24 hydrogen-powered prototype, which is set to run in future Le Mans races. “As a racing driver, I spent many years developing a racing car equipped with hydrogen technology. That’s why I chose a high-performance car that also had range and refueling took three to four minutes,” Lombard, who is also Hopium’s CEO, told Ars Technical.

Lombard elaborated on the inspiration behind Machina. “When you’re a race car driver, you’re close to your car. You have to understand the car and feel its every move. “We have the same affinity with Machina, whether it’s how the car behaves on the road or the interactions inside, such as touch buttons and haptic feedback,” he said.

Machina is a stylish sedan.
Enlarge / Machina is a stylish sedan.

Dhananjay Khadilkar

According to Remi Voisin, senior engineer at Hopium, Machinan also stood out for its cutting-edge fuel cell technology. “Ours is the most powerful fuel cell ever made (peak power 200kW) that can offer unique performance in terms of range, power and energy availability,” Voisin said.

Voisin added that they are aiming to start production of the Machina by the end of 2025 or early 2026.

A tank and six bags

Based on the motive of NAMX (New Automotive and mobility exploration) based in Paris, an SUV with removable tanks was designed to find a new solution for hydrogen mobility. “Our CapXstore system costs much less than building a hydrogen fuel station,” Thomas de Lussac, founder and head of engineering, told Ars Technical.

The state-of-the-art NAMX ‘HUV’ (Hydrogen Utility Vehicle) produces 550 hp (410 kW) and has a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h) and a maximum range of 497 miles (800 km). Of that total, 311 miles (500 km) comes from a fixed main tank, while the car is capable of a further 186 miles (300 km) thanks to removable ‘CapX’ canisters filled with hydrogen. “The NAMX HUV has six such capsules, each with a range of 31 miles (50 km),” de Lussac said.

He added that these CapX capsules can be exchanged at CapXstores, which the company plans to install by early 2026. “Our goal is to create a network of CapXstores where these capsules are available. We plan to put a CapXstore every 45 kilometers,” he said. He added that the canisters can be filled at hydrogen stations. However, NAMX does not produce hydrogen itself, but buys it from existing commercial suppliers.

De Lussac said their aim was to extend the concept beyond cars to all forms of mobility and to boats and machinery.

Other hydrogen-powered vehicles on display included a Citroen light van with a tank capacity of 4 kg, a range of 400 km and a refueling time of three minutes. “The van uses a hybrid system of hydrogen and battery power. The battery, which has a range of 50 km, is charged with a fuel cell,” Stellantis’ Thierry Pinot told Ars Technical.

Battery-powered electric cars like the Ford e-Transit may be all the rage, but this is Citroen's hydrogen fuel cell electric car
Enlarge / Battery-powered electric cars like the Ford e-Transit may be all the rage, but this is Citroen’s hydrogen fuel cell electric car

Dhananjay Khadilkar

According to Pinot, the hydrogen hybrid system enables the van to have the same payload as its internal combustion engine.

Finally, a concept car named Alpenglow with an impressive design was also presented at the Paris Motor Show. A futuristic single-seat car with a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine developed by the French sports car manufacturer Alpine – mainly the sports division of Renault.

The Alpine Alpenglow concept is inspired by the Alpine A220.  The driver sits in the middle, flanked by a pair of 700 bar hydrogen tanks.
Enlarge / The Alpine Alpenglow concept is inspired by the Alpine A220. The driver sits in the middle, flanked by a pair of 700 bar hydrogen tanks.

Dhananjay Khadilkar

Alpinen says the Alpenglow “represents the brand’s resurgence in design and technology” and that it “sets the tone as an inspiration for all future Alpine models.” However, it is not intended for production, and while Alpine is planning a light electric sports car developed with Lotus, it would be surprising to see an Alpine with a hydrogen combustion engine go on sale anytime soon, given the very low power output and efficiency that such engines produce.

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