Electric cars continue to march forward, but hydrogen fuel cell designs are still holding on. The Hyundai Nexo is only available in California, but the SUV recently backed up its safety cred with a Top Safety Pick + award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). According to Hyundai, it’s the first production fuel-cell vehicle to even be tested by IIHS, never mind receive an award.

Garnering the award requires a slathering of good ratings for everything from side impacts to headlight effectiveness, with an advanced or superior rating for crash prevention – otherwise known as active safety systems like automatic emergency braking. As such, the Nexo scored good in all crash categories and was issued a good rating for its slim auto-dimming LED headlights. It achieved the required superior rating for its crash prevention systems, having dodged collisions in 12-mph and 25-mph tests.

Gallery: Hyundai Nexo IIHS Crash Testing

Crashing a vehicle filled with hydrogen tends to evoke images of the infamous Hindenberg disaster, but it’s not like gasoline-powered vehicles aren’t filled with extremely flammable fluids and vapors. To Hyundai’s credit, the video at the top of the article details the Nexo’s body structure and fuel tanks, and showcases the various steps taken to make sure a catastrophic hydrogen-fueled fireball doesn’t occur.

That’s good, because we drove a Nexo back in 2018 and enjoyed our time behind the wheel. With a range of 370 miles and a five-minute refuel time for the hydrogen tanks, it offers a motoring experience familiar to pretty much anyone. And with the only by-product of the electric conversion process being water, it’s certainly an environmentally friendly form of transportation.

The question now is whether hydrogen fuel cells have a future in mainstream motoring. If this technology had been pushed 10 years ago when electric cars still struggled with 100-mile ranges and hours of recharge time, it might be a different story. As battery development advances and fast-charging electric infrastructure expands, the window for electric vehicles utilizing high-pressure hydrogen fuel cells is rapidly closing.

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How the Hyundai NEXO Performed in the First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Test by the IIHS

  • Hyundai NEXO Fuel Cell SUV is the First Production Fuel Cell to be Crash Tested by IIHS in the U.S.
  • Hyundai Motor America Now Offers 12 TOP SAFETY PICK/ TOP SAFETY PICK+ Models in the U.S. Market, One of the Most Prolific TSP-Awarded Brands in the Industry

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., Aug. 9, 2019
 – The 2019 Hyundai NEXO hydrogen fuel cell electric SUV has earned a TOP SAFETY PICK+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for vehicles built after June 2019. The NEXO, which is only available in California, is the first such hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that IIHS has tested. A vehicle such as NEXO would not normally be included in the IIHS routine test schedule, but Hyundai nominated its own NEXO for early testing. Evaluating the NEXO was also beneficial to IIHS, by offering its first early opportunity to evaluate a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

To qualify for a 2019 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award, a vehicle must earn good ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. It also needs an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention and a good headlight rating. The NEXO, a midsize premium SUV, has good ratings in all six crashworthiness tests.

Its standard front crash prevention system earned a superior rating. The vehicle avoided collisions in 12 mph and 25 mph track tests and has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria. In addition, NEXO comes with standard high-beam assist, which may automatically switch between high beams and low beams, depending on the presence of other vehicles.

“Hyundai and its engineering team continue to make vehicles even safer with the addition of active standard safety features, prioritizing cutting-edge safety and convenience at the forefront of the driving experience,” said Scott Margason, director, Product Planning, Hyundai Motor America. “Our NEXO further emphasizes this priority on safety, with generous driver-assistance technologies and excellent passenger protection in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.”

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