Prolonged debates over future car technology have zeroed in on electric vehicles (EV), as global top automakers are investing billions of dollars every year in the potential-laden area.
Public interest about better fuel efficiency and low emissions is also very high.
GM Korea, the American carmaker's local affiliate, started receiving preorders for the Chevy Bolt EV, March 17, and all 400 cars available were sold in two hours. Another U.S.-based automaker Tesla also introduced the Model S 90D sedan last year. Delivery is expected to take place in June.
Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors have also joined the race for EVs, but are now preparing another type of clean mobility for the future _ fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV).
"I believe an FCEV is the ultimate emission free solution," a Kia Motors official said.
"Of course, an EV does not produce any emissions itself as it runs on a battery. However, we need to consider the environmental harm in producing electricity for EV batteries. If you have to build more nuclear power plants to charge EV batteries, they won't be eco-friendly. It may end up being an environmental disaster."
Unlike an EV that uses batteries to power its motor, an FCEV uses oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen to generate electricity to power the motor. Most FCEVs are classified as zero-emission vehicles that emit only water and heat.
Another advantage of FCEVs is that they just need hydrogen as fuel from charge stations, as each one has an internal power generator called a fuel cell stack. It takes several minutes to charge a hydrogen fuel vehicle, while a high-capacity EV takes more than 10 hours to fully charge its battery.
Paying attentions to an FCEV's potential as an alternative clean car for the future, Kia Motors has developed related technologies along with sister company Hyundai Motor since the late 1990s. The nation's second-largest carmaker also carried out a coast-to-coast test drive in the United States with alternate Kia Sportage and Mohave sports utility vehicles (SUV) for two years since 2008.
In 2013, Hyundai Motor launched the world's first mass-produced FCEV _ the Tucson ix. The model can travel up to 400 kilometers when fully charged and can reach 100 kilometer per hour in 12 seconds.
The Tucson ix was named as one of the top powertrain vehicles in 2014 by the U.S.-based car media Ward's Auto.
The second-generation Tucson ix is expected to be introduced during the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics next year, the official said its drive range will be enhanced to 800 kilometers by then.
During this year's Seoul International Auto Show, Hyundai and Kia also introduced the FE SUV, a future FCEV concept to demonstrate the two carmakers' commitment to hydrogen-powered vehicle technology.
Lee Ki-sang who leads Hyundai and Kia's green cars operations said during this year's Jeju International Electric Vehicle Expo that each carmaker will introduce one FCEV by the end of 2020.
Since Hyundai Motor announced it will mass produce and sell the FE FCEV next year, industry officials expect Kia Motors will now introduce its FCEV model before then.
Despite its emissions-zero feature, Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes FCEVs are not an economic choice.
"I think they are extremely silly," Musk said during the 2015 Automotive World News Congress.
"It's just very difficult to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car. If you just take a solar panel and use that to charge a battery pack directly, compared to split water, take hydrogen, dump oxygen, compress hydrogen, it's about half the efficiency."
Another challenge FCEVs face is the lack of a charging infrastructure to support them.
There are currently 53 charging stations for FCEVs across the country. The government announced that it will extend this to 80 by the end of 2020, but the number is still far short to attract consumers who fear the car may get stranded.
"I believe the number of charging stations for either EVs or FCEVs should be as many as LPG stations, which is around 2,700 across the country," a market observer said.
"The charging infrastructure for EVs has spread rapidly of late while FCEVs still have a long way to go in terms of infrastructure investment. If the infrastructure is not there, consumers won't buy them."
Another hurdle for establishing a charging infrastructure for FCEVs is the cost. Unlike EV charging stations, for FCEVs each costs around 3 billion won ($2.3 million).