Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Cars? Daimler Delays, Seeks Nissan, Ford As Partners

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First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

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While gasoline engines will be with us for many years, and plug-in electric cars are coming slowly, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles remain in the background.

Four makers have said they will launch production cars powered by hydrogen between 2015 and 2018.

Now, one of those companies has slammed on the brakes.

Daimler, which had planned to launch a fuel-cell powered B Class compact in 2015, has delayed the car at least two years, according to a report in Automobile News Europe.

While its system is ready for production, says the trade journal, the company believes it can't sell the hydrogen car at a competitive price.

Instead, it is talking with two possible partners--Ford and the Renault-Nissan Alliance--about sharing its technology across cars from all four brands, to bring down costs through higher volumes.

A Daimler spokesman called the talks "promising."

Nissan already plans to use the Mercedes-Benz B Class architecture for a compact car it will sell under its Infiniti brand, so it is already familiar with the new compact luxury car.

Automakers continue to say that hydrogen fuel-cell cars are still important.

Partnerships among major automakers to share the high costs of new powertrain technologies have been increasing over the past decade.

First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

First Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle delivery, Newport Beach, Dec 2010

Enlarge Photo

Just yesterday, BMW and Toyota announced a program of joint technology development that will include hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

BMW plans to begin developing a hydrogen-powered car in 2015, using fuel-cell technology licensed from Toyota, with a goal of production in 2020.

Korean maker Hyundai continues on its own; the company announced plans to produce a version of its Tucson compact crossover fueled by hydrogen last fall, at the Paris Motor Show.

Honda, which has up to 100 of its FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell sedan on the road globally, also continues to go it alone.

But other makers clearly see that if hydrogen cars are ever to be built in volume, the huge costs of developing and testing the new technology is better shared among multiple companies.

What hasn't yet been addressed, at least for the U.S., is the cost of creating a ubiquitous hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

2008 mercedes b class facelift 003

2008 mercedes b class facelift 003

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To provide the universal coverage now enjoyed by gasoline, the United States would need, at minimum, 15,000 hydrogen stations at perhaps $2 million each--if each one could be ideally located and spaced out.

Unlike the domestic electric power that can recharge plug-in electric cars, households don't have hydrogen anywhere on premises.

Even in the most optimistic of scenarios, the Mercedes-Benz pullback once more raises the specter of the old saying: "Hydrogen is the fuel of the future--and always will be."

Is the Daimler announcement just a delay, of the same sort that many plug-in electric car programs have suffered? Or is it another blow to the future of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (12)
  1. So what do we have with hydrogen cars.
    1) very inefficient (primary fuel to electricity)
    2) Expensive vehicles (true for EVs as well though)
    3) Infrastructure issue. (not really true for EVs)
    1) Long range (EVs don't)
    2) Relatively quick fill-up. (EVs don't)

    I'm guessing that Negatives simply out-weigh the positives.

    Really makes me like E-REVs more and more.

  2. Love the concept, keep the research going, but still, quite a ways to go, obviously. Honda really seems the most serious about this so I wonder what they know and really think... I wouldn't give up on hydrogen but I'm not holding my breath, either. Let's hope that future technical improvements may someday make this feasible, I guess.

  3. I agree. If you look for a complex and expensive way to solve the problems of batteries PHEVs are the better option. At least their cost and complexity is less absurd than the extreme engineering that goes into hydrogen vehicles and they don't need a multi billion dollar infrastructure.

  4. What is going on with all these hydrogen press releases recently? Are they serious or is this an attempt to slow plug-in car progress in hopes hydrogen will gain a foothold in the imagination of consumers so that we'll turn away from EVs? Well, I'm sticking with electric cars, EVs are here and ready to go. With electric cars its only a matter of time, hydrogen on the other hand will need an entirely new global infrastructure whereas electricity has been with us for what 100 years give or take?

  5. I don't think it's an attempt to slow down anything EV-related, it's just different companies that would benefit from the change.

    For me, always intriguing, always seems far away, etc... Keep up the research, but the short-term answer is EVs, and to a lesser extent, biodiesel, IMHO.

  6. Here is good reason not to like compressed fuels like hydrogen.

  7. I just don't like to drive around with a lot of hydrogen gas...

  8. BEVs will be cheaper than ICE to produce in volume. The range will come to us and even today Better Place's system is way cheaper than an entire industry to deliver Hydrogen when we already have an electricity grid.

    I drove the Hyundai H2 SUV. Nice car but no different if it had a battery instead of a massive steel gas tank.

    h2 is a hoax because it keeps big oil in business. End this nonsense now.

  9. "h2 is a hoax because it keeps big oil in business."

    A hoax not enirely, but hydrogen fits nicely in the notion that in order to drive a car, you have to put some substance in it. That's the public's perception of what is normal and that makes h2 vehicles a bit less of a culture shock. But who's gonna sell us the substance?

    I predict that we've seen nothing yet in terms of pushing hydrogen. As soon as the electric car starts gaining real momentum, you can bet the oil companies will throw their full weight into the battle. They are afraid of losing the business of selling 'substances' to motorists.

  10. It is good to hear that Ford is tying up with Daimler to launch a fuel cell vehicle. I recognized that they had no serious internal development to offer, so at least they are tying up with someone who does. Of course all new components need high volumes to reduces costs, which is why the Chevy Volt was designed as it was, with electric drive components designed to travel at full speed on electric power alone, so that those same components could be dropped into a pure BEV with a larger battery, or into a FCV, and enjoy the lower costs of those common components due to the high volumes of Chevy Volts sold.

  11. I think that if Ford does agree to this that they should look into using hydrogen for their heavy duty trucks for business. That is, I think, the best route to go to reduce fuel use and save money on fuel cost. A work truck like that would be a useful vehicle out in the field to provide backup power for tools. I think that area has huge potential.

  12. Big Oil companies will control hydrogen production & the fueling stations. If you buy an all electric car you can finally cut yourself free of them. That's why hydrogen powered cars are a really bad idea. There are HUGE energy losses with producing & storing hydrogen. It only makes sense for Big Oil & their cronies. They want keep their customers captive. Don't you be one of them. Oil companies hate electric cars & with good reason. With every EV sold they lose another customer.

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