Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CellEnlarge Photo
Finishing our last few stories from the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, we realized we forgot one piece of consumer news: Mercedes-Benz started taking orders for its 2011 B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle last month, and now it has announced the price.
So what does it cost to lease a compact five-door hatchback that runs exclusively on (still hard-to-find) hydrogen? A stiff $849 per month, thank you.
Just 70 available
The 36-month lease includes both insurance on the car and the cost of fuel. About 70 of the cars will be leased to drivers in the greater Los Angeles region and the San Francisco Bay Area, part of a larger global fleet that includes cars in various European countries and elsewhere.
Only a few of the U.S. cars will go to private customers, as Mercedes-Benz is also targeting "fleet operators, public institutions, [and] public figures" to drive its alternative-fuel showpiece.
The B-Class F-Cell is another in the growing list of limited-production test fleets, designed to let manufacturers accumulate data on how U.S. drivers use their cars. This offers carmakers invaluable data on how new powertrains--from plug-in hybrids and battery electrics to hydrogen fuel cells--actually respond to real-world demands.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell is the second generation of fuel-cell vehicles the company is testing in the States. It follows a smaller fleet of A-Class subcompact hatchbacks fitted with hydrogen fuel cells that have been on test since 2004.
2011 Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in CaliforniaEnlarge Photo
H2 to fuel cell to e-motor
According to the company, the new fuel-cell vehicle provides twice the range, its motor is 30 percent more powerful, and it uses 30 percent less hydrogen than the earlier A-Class.
The fuel cell itself is housed in the sandwich floor structure of the B-Class, beneath the passenger compartment, as is its lithium-ion battery. Hydrogen combines with airborne oxygen in the fuel cell to produce electricity and water vapor; the electricity charges the battery, which actually powers the motor that drives the front wheels.
The new hydrogen vehicle has a range of roughly 250 miles on a full tank, which holds 4 kg (9 lbs) of hydrogen, stored at 700 bar (10,150 psi). Its 100-kilowatt (136-horsepower) electric motor delivers performance roughly comparable to a 2-liter gasoline engine, according to Mercedes.
Its "gas mileage" equivalent, according to the EPA, is 54 miles per gallon. It doesn't use gasoline, of course, but that's under the same set of calculations that gives the all-electric 2011 Nissan Leaf a "gas mileage" of 99 mpg.
Governator a fan
No less a personage than hydrogen-highway booster Arnold Schwarzenegger, the outgoing governor of California, has given the B-Class F-Cell a thumbs-up. During a hydrogen conference last spring, he commented, "I would love one of these fuel-cell powered Mercedes cars!"
California has already committed $27 million to hydrogen fueling stations, with $14 million more expected next year. The Los Angeles region has five public hydrogen stations, with four more to open by the end of this year.