A real promise for the future, the fuel cell car is still struggling to emerge. The only two models present on the French market, the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, are selling in dribs and drabs, both because of the lack of infrastructure for refueling and the high price of around €80,000. Olivier Lombard, racing driver and founder of Hopium, nevertheless intends to invest in the niche, with the Māchina sedan, whose launch is scheduled for 2025. “The electric car is a transitional solution”, assures us Olivier Lombard. “With a fuel cell, the autonomy is 1,000 km and the tank is full in 5 minutes. We find the freedom to move from point A to point B with a carbon-free means of transport, without constraint in the usual routine.”
It was in the fall of 2020 that the first images of the Hopium Māchina were unveiled. This sedan with a racy profile, with a size equivalent to that of an Audi A7, aims for the top-of-the-range, with an announced price of around 120,000 €, the only way to absorb the high cost of the fuel cell. . To justify this addition, the services must be up to par. Thus, Hopium announces a power of 500 hp and a “true emotional experience at the wheel”: Olivier Lombard intends to use his experience as a driver to ensure a development capable of providing real driving pleasure, despite a high mass , around two tons.
500 hp for the Hopium Māchina, much more than the Toyota Mirai
The announced power far exceeds that of the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. “Our goal is to offer performance in line with our high-end positioning, without going overboard, as some electric models that exceed 800 hp can do”. The fuel cell alone will not provide all the power, Olivier Lombard reasonably announces “a little over 150 kW”, or 204 hp. This already appears substantial, in the current state of the art of technology, and this has prompted Hopium to design its cells in-house: on the one hand because no supplier offers, in its view, a solution adapted to its needs and on the other hand, because the nascent brand considers it to be a key know-how in the design of its model.
To ensure a total of 500 hp during acceleration, it is therefore necessary to supply the motors by another means. This is why a battery acts as a buffer to ensure power peaks. This will use a cell technology still under development, both to guarantee performance and to reduce its ecological impact. Despite a significant difference in power between the fuel cell and that of the electric motor, Olivier Lombard guarantees good performance endurance, even in fast driving. “The 150 kW of the fuel cell will be enough to maintain the maximum speed of 230 km/h”, assures the driver and founder of the brand. It is therefore during very sporty driving phases (circuit, hill climbs, etc.) that power losses may be felt.
A growing French manufacturer
Revealing the characteristics of a car is one thing, bringing the project to completion is another. In this regard, Hopium is continuing its development, and today has 120 people. The latest fundraising, at the end of 2021, made it possible to inject 5.5 million euros into the coffers of the company, whose shares are 48.96% owned by Olivier Lombard. Hopium announces the presentation for the month of June of a show car, a real-scale model which promises to be faithful to the production model and will provide a realistic overview of the passenger compartment. This will be unveiled exactly one year after the very first prototype, which was used to validate the main technical choices of architecture. A few months later, a series of prototypes closer to the series will follow, which will serve as a basis for the development. “Each series of prototypes corresponds to a series of technical milestones. For now, we are meeting the deadlines we have set ourselves.”
Production will be handled internally by Hopium, in a factory whose location remains to be defined: its location is still under study. However, the manufacture of the body-in-white and the stamping will be entrusted to a subcontractor. “These heavy operations would require a huge investment in terms of tooling, and they do not constitute Hopium’s know-how”. A very different strategy from that of Tesla (the American brand is used to manufacturing everything in-house), which nevertheless serves as a model for Hopium. “Like Tesla, we intend to bring our technology to the top of the range, before applying it to more affordable models”, continues Olivier Lombard. “And just like the Model S, we believe the Māchina will be a true technological breakthrough.” We can only wish the same success to the French company. However, this will be subject to the development of a hydrogen distribution network, as well as to possible competition from major manufacturers.