It has been a heck of a few weeks for a rather unusual car. All day, every day for the past six weeks, a rare Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell – the model that is the world’s first production hydrogen-powered fuel cell car – has been steadily covering the miles on a special mission.
Over 50 days, it has clocked up 2,005 miles on a tight grid of central London roads, all within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.
This eye-catching car has been impossible to ignore on London streets. It was not so much the bold signwriting on the sides, proclaimingit as “A Streetcar named Hyundai”. You couldn’t miss it for the brightly-coloured cross-structure attached across the nearside rear wheel and surrounding bodywork, meticulously measuring and recording inch-by-inch the distance travelled.
Nor for the weird grey roof-box with a large eye-hole on one side, through which an enclosed camera was taking a continuous stream of images of the streets it was passing through.
The purpose of the project was to drive the entire network of streets that comprises a London taxi driver’s famous qualification, The Knowledge. The Hyundai was on a mission to cover the same territory and photograph London street scenes in a continuous series of 650,000 images – one every seven metres on the entire route.
The goal: to create a mosaic artwork, as well as a time-elapse video, that will be a time-capsule record of the capital’s streets as they appear in 2015. The motive behind it is a novel way of celebrating the 10th anniversary of Hyundai Motor UK, the importers of the Korean car brand.
The car has been driven in relays on its 50-day journey by Hyundai employees and invited guest drivers, including Jamie Laing from Made in Chelsea, Nicola Adams who was Britain’s first female Olympic boxing champion and a gold medal winner at the 2012 London games, and other sports personalities and car specialists – including me.
I was lucky enough to spend part of a morning driving the ‘Streetcar’ on a key section of the route, on streets around Charing Cross, Covent Garden and towards the City of London. It whispered along, with zero pollution. Because it is a fuel cell car, consuming hydrogen to create the electricity on which it runs, the Hyundai is uncannily quiet and emits only water vapour.
Without the signwriting and strange extrusions, you probably wouldn’t even notice anything different about it as it motored through the traffic. But its odd appearance with those additions meant that people stopped to gawp at it, and were interested enough to ask question every time we paused – which happened frequently, for a technician to check and adjust the camera.
The carefully pre-planned route we were following was organised by Ordnance Survey, involving the same team who were also responsible for planning the 2012 Olympic torch route. The finished artwork is going on display at London’s City Hall.
As for the car, techies may want to know that it has a 100 kW, 134 bhp electric motor, and is capable of 100 mph top speed. It has two hydrogen storage tanks and has a range of up to 369 miles when they’re both full. The energy converted from the stored hydrogen into electricity in the car’s fuel cell is stored in a 24 kW lithium-ion battery pack. The only emission is water.