Kia Motors unveiled a fuel cell version of its new Sportage at the Paris show – at the same time the production petrol and diesel versions of the fully redesigned small SUV model line made their public debut.

Numerous claimed technical innovations include a higher output 80kW fuel cell and a new lithium ion polymer 152 volt battery – said to give the Sportage ‘FCEV’ higher performance, a greatly extended driving range and cold-weather starting capability to operate in sub-zero temperatures.

The FCEV’s power plant is located in the normal engine bay and boasts an additional 5kW of power (compared to earlier research vehicles) to produce a peak output of 80kW and a top speed of 150 km/h (about 95mph). With a 152-litre hydrogen storage tank located low, ahead of the rear wheels, this latest research vehicle has a range of 300 kilometres (about 200 miles).

“Entering this new phase of our programme is really exciting,” said Hyundai-Kia group R & D head Sang-Kwon. “Now we will be able to build fuel cell electric vehicles in higher volumes for fleet testing and the latest Sportage FCEV drives us closer to the commercialisation of fuel cell vehicles.

“Migrating our fuel cell technologies into a smaller, more compact vehicle presented many design challenges and I am confident that our engineers have met them all. With the new Sportage FCEV, Kia takes a big step towards our goal of developing a commercially viable zero-emissions vehicle based on fuel cell technology by 2010,” added Kim.

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The fuel cell Sportage was developed in parallel with the redesigned production versions.

Kia said that demonstrating its ability to conduct simultaneous engineering of both petrol/diesel production models and fuel cell research vehicles, shows that it will be able to significantly improve the efficiency and quality control of future fuel cell vehicle manufacturing processes.

The Sportage FCEV is equipped with hydrogen-powered fuel cells from UTC Fuel Cells of Hartford, Connecticut and a next generation hybrid-electric drivetrain, motor and control unit from Enovas Systems of Torrance, California.

Thanks to the use of lightweight aluminium body shell components, instead of the conventional Sportage’s all-steel construction, the FCEV has a power-to-weight ratio that is similar to the production model. The FCEV also retains the roomy cabin, low noise levels and overall driving refinement of its new petrol/diesel-powered sibling, Kia claimed.

The Hyundai-Kia group formed its first fuel cell task force team in 2000 and unveiled the Santa Fe FCEV, its first prototype fuel cell vehicle, in October that year.