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Hyundai's new fuel cell SUV drives itself to Olympics

Car will make South Korean debut in March with limited automation

Hyundai's Nexo SUV drove itself about 250km to Pyeongchang on Monday.

SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor sent a prototype of its new fuel cell vehicle on a roughly 250km autonomous drive Monday to the host city of this month's Winter Olympics, highlighting the South Korean automaker's stepped-up development of hydrogen-powered cars.

Hyundai equipped the Nexo SUV with an advanced autonomous-driving system for the test run, which began just outside Seoul and took the car to Pyeongchang. The system rates as level 4 under U.S.-based trade group SAE International's classification for autonomous vehicles, according to Hyundai, with level 5 regarded as full automation.

But level 4 automation presents a major challenge in costs for the South Korean automaker because the technology comes from outside the company, said Kim Ki-chan, a professor at Catholic University of Korea.

The Nexo, which goes on sale in South Korea next month, will offer level 2 automation limited to parking and other functions. It will be priced around 60 million won ($55,000), but government subsidies for environmentally friendly vehicles will lower the buyer cost to the 30 million won range -- comparable to the price of existing midsize SUVs.

The Nexo offers a range of 609km with a full tank of hydrogen based on North American standards, up from 415km for Hyundai's previous fuel cell vehicle, thanks to higher storage density for the hydrogen.

Hyundai, which will strengthen its service network for hydrogen-powered cars in conjunction with the rollout, targets cumulative sales of 10,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2022. It is chasing Toyota Motor and other automakers with a head start in the technology.

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