7 Risky Vehicles Automakers Gambled On

There’s a big difference between a sporting concept car and an automobile set to see the light of day. Innovative real-world cars and trucks take years of product development and huge investments by automakers. Should their bet on superior technology and a willing consumer base fail, it could damage the company’s reputation for years.

The auto shows of late 2013 and early 2014 demonstrated that the world’s top automakers are ready to introduce cars that will drive their brands in very different directions. In one case, it means a car brand known for excess will get an electric motor; in another, it involves a famously durable pickup truck getting a new suit of body armor. Here are seven soon-to-launch vehicles that represent major gambles for automakers.

hyundai tucson fuel cell

1. Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Crossover

Tell customers they need a hydrogen station to fill up a car’s tank and you have a gamble on your hands. Though Asian automakers are paving the road for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, California drivers (who else?) are among the first getting a shot at the innovative technology. In fact, the Hyundai (HYMLF.PK) Tucson and other fuel-cell models have electric motors on board, which has sparked a bit of a feud between electric car makers that will power their vehicles using hydrogen and those that already do so with lithium-ion batteries (one from Palo Alto stands out).

Hyundai is powering full-steam ahead with its fuel-cell Tucson that produces only water vapor emissions. By March 2014, customers will be able to lease the crossover in Southern California at $499 a month with fuel and maintenance included. With respect to pricing, the Korean automaker is eliminating most of the risk it is taking in the rollout. The gamble comes in the bet the technology will catch on and the automaker’s extensive investment in development will be worth it.