Hyundai became today the first manufacturer to begin assembly-line production of zero-emissions, hydrogen-powered vehicles when a white Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle rolled off the assembly line at the company’s Ulsan manufacturing facility.

The ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle is based on Hyundai’s popular ix35, C-segment SUV, known in North America as the Tucson.

“With the ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle, Hyundai is leading the way into the zero-emissions future,” said Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman, Eok Jo Kim. “The ix35 Fuel Cell is the most eco-friendly vehicle in the auto industry and proves that hydrogen fuel cell technology in daily driving is no longer a dream.”

The ix35 Fuel Cell produced today will be one of 17 destined for fleet customers in the City of Copenhagen, Denmark and Skåne, Sweden.

The Municipality of Copenhagen, as part of its initiative to be carbon-free by 2025, will be supplied with 15 ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles for fleet use, according to an agreement that was announced in September 2012.  Two ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles will be supplied to Skåne, Sweden.

“Assembly-line production of fuel cell vehicles marks a crucial milestone in the history of the automobile industry not just in Korea, but throughout the world,” said Mang Woo Park, mayor of Ulsan city. “By supplying more hydrogen refueling stations to support the eco-friendly fuel cell vehicles produced, we will make Ulsan the landmark for eco-friendly automobiles.”

Hyundai said it plans to build 1,000 ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles by 2015 for lease to public and private fleets, primarily in Europe, where the European Union has established a hydrogen road map and initiated construction of hydrogen fueling stations.

According to Hyundai, the strategy of leading automakers in Europe and the U.S. is to supply hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and establish refueling stations in order to prepare the market for mass production of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

After 2015, with lowered vehicle production costs and further developed hydrogen infrastructure, Hyundai will begin manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for consumer retail sales.

Built with proprietary technology, Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell is powered by hydrogen. A fuel cell stack converts the hydrogen into electricity, which turns the vehicle’s motor. The only emission generated by the ix35 Fuel Cell is water.

Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell boasts drivability and performance similar to that of the gas-powered ix35.

Modularization of fuel cell systems for the core part of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – fuel cell stack, driving device and inverter –  enabled the engine to be downsized to match the size of a gas engine while improving productivity and making maintenance more convenient.

The ix35 Fuel Cell is considered by the Korean company as the halo vehicle in Hyundai’s Blue Drive sub-brand, the badge worn by Hyundai’s cleanest vehicles, including the Sonata Hybrid, i20 Blue Drive and BlueOn, Hyundai’s battery-powered i10.

The ix35 Fuel Cell can be refueled with hydrogen in a few minutes. It accelerates from zero to 100 kilometer per hour (62 mph) in 12.5 seconds, has a top speed of 160 kilometer per hour (100 mph) and can travel 594 kilometers (369 miles) on before refueling.

The first ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle to roll off the assembly line is currently being shipped in order to be displayed at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show next week.