The hydrogen dream car of the 32-year-old French racing driver Olivier Lombard, the Hopium Māchina, is one step further away from becoming a reality by 2025, as the start-up is forced to find new money first by focussing on selling its state-of-the-art fuel cell technology to third parties.
Hopium is splitting up into two entities, Hopium Technology, for marketing its technology to professionals like the transport and maritime sector, and Hopium Automotive, for the fuel cells for interested carmakers, with the Māchina as the ultimate demonstrator.
Capitalize on expertise
“While keeping the Hopium Māchina in sight, we want to prioritize the development of Hopium Technology to capitalize on our expertise quickly. The needs are there in terms of professional and heavy mobility, and the infrastructure is developing rapidly,” Lombard says.
Apart from Toyota, Hyundai, and BMW, there are few true believers in private hydrogen cars among car manufacturers. Instead, most believe it to be better suited for heavy transport vehicles. “This strategic change is more attractive to investment funds,” says Sylvain Laurent, former Dassault Systemes exec and now CEO of Hopium.
And that will be necessary as finances aren’t showing a rosy future. The Hopium shares, introduced at one euro on the Paris Stock Exchange in 2020, skyrocketed to 42 euros in June 2021 to dive into a deep descent and land at three euros a few days ago.
Fuel cells for submarines
The Normandy Region, where Hopium wants to set up its production facilities by 2024 with some 40 employees, came to the rescue with an interest-free loan of €2 million, but that won’t secure the start-up’s future. Instead, refocusing on marketing its fuel cell technology developed for the Māchina, Hopium hopes to find new cash.
One domain that seems to be interested is the maritime sector, with fuel cells to propel pleasure craft. But also for professional vessels, as Hopium can build on the experience of the new president of its board Alain Guillou. As a former co-CEO of French naval defense expert Naval Group, Guillou was responsible, among others, for R&D into submarine fuel cell systems.
Māchina sedan as enabler
“Since the beginning, we have been guided by technology, and it is its performance that has brought the fuel cell teams together thanks to the car, that we have set up the engineering and realization of the propulsion system,” explains Olivier Lombard.
“We started from a blank sheet of paper to create a compact, powerful, and modular system that gives it an advantage in weight and volume over what exists on the market,” he adds.
The final production fuel cell car should feature +500 hp, a top speed of 230 km/hour, 0-100 km/hour acceleration in under five seconds, and a range on the hydrogen of 1 000 km. In addition, the ascending fuselage and the kinetic grille are optimized for fuel cell system cooling and vehicle aerodynamics.
Félix Godard, a former designer at Porsche, Tesla, and Lucid, styled the sleek Māchina sedan. Godard learned the trade tricks successively at Porsche on the Mission E-project, the forerunner of the Taycan, worked on the Model 3 at Tesla, and the Air at Lucid Motors. He also made a passage at the autonomous vehicle company HYPR.
List price of €120 000
The Hopium Māchina prototype was shown for the first time to the general public at the Paris Motor Show in October 2022. At that time, Hopium signed a temporary order for 10 000 cars with Crédit Agricole Group’s subsidiary Agilauto.
The bank’s specialist in sales and financing of cars wanted to offer hydrogen-powered premium cars to its customers after production starts in 2025. Pre-ordering for the €120 000 Hopium Māchina is open for individuals at 656 euros on the website. That figure refers to the atomic wavelength of hydrogen.