Hydron looks to combine autonomous tech, hydrogen fuel cells

Hydron executives heard the message from fleets that have expressed interest in hydrogen fuel cells and highly autonomous vehicles. It’s why the emerging company plans to combine both offerings in a bid to design, produce, and sell a new lineup of trucks for the North American market. Think of it as a belief that the whole will be better than the sum of its individual parts.

“Hydron was really born from some of the experiences we encountered in TuSimple,” says Toronto native and head of U.S. operations Jason Wallace. (Canadian entrepreneur Mo Chen played a founding role in both businesses, and Wallace led TuSimple’s marketing efforts.)

Hydron autonomous trucks(Photo: Hydron)

Time and again, potential customers highlighted the need for factory-produced designs rather than retrofit equipment, Wallace explains, suggesting that retrofit options leave fleets managing what could be described as an array of science experiments. “We realized one of the opportunities was on the hardware side.” Two Class 8 prototypes, both day cabs, have now been produced and are undergoing track-based tests after 1-1/2 years of research and development. Hydrogen is emerging as a “front runner” over battery-electric designs when it comes to delivering the energy needed for longhaul trucking, Wallace says.

But the day cabs are still seen as a fit because Hydron is banking that Level 4 autonomous trucks will be allowed to run without drivers within a couple of years. That eliminates the need for a sleeper.

Jason Wallace, Hydron head of U.S. operationsJason Wallace, Hydron head of U.S. operations (Photo: Supplied)

“It’s probably a lot closer than people think,” he says of the underlying Level 4 technology and regulations. “Regionally, within the state of Texas, they’re very open to autonomy.” Early efforts will likely focus on the “Texas triangle” connecting Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, before turning to other major trade corridors across the U.S.

Hydron’s production timeline is equally aggressive, setting targets to build trucks at a yet-established production facility as early as the third quarter of 2024. “We have been speaking to a number of commercial fleets and also autonomous driving companies,” he adds. Further announcements are promised later this year. Wallace won’t identify specific production partners, but stresses that there are many “well-resourced” Tier 1 manufacturers looking for opportunities to include components.  “We see a strong pathway there.”

He doesn’t speak about cabs and drivelines when discussing the future trucks, either. Instead, Wallace refers to issues such as how many cameras or lidar and radar sensors they might need, where sensors should be placed, and the needs for computing power. “It’s really important that these things are stable and can handle the vibration and temperature.” “We’re also excited about the possibility on the future roadmap of looking at liquid hydrogen,” he adds. “It’s more energy-dense.” The potential refueling times would be quicker as well.

While Hydron plans to encourage customers to use green hydrogen – produced through renewable energy – there will be room for the grey hydrogen produced from natural gas, too. “We don’t want to overstep and tell our customers where to source their hydrogen,” he says.

But the emerging manufacturer knows where it wants fleets to source such trucks.