The speculation is over, as Daimler has signed a three-way agreement with Ford and the Renault-Nissan Alliance to jointly develop future hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
The technology, expensive to develop and not without its drawbacks, has been explored by each company in the past, and the agreement brings together 60 combined years and millions of miles of fuel-cell experience.
As recetly as last week, Daimler was said to be in talks with Ford, and the Franco-Japanese duo of Renault and Nissan, over the development of fuel-cell vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz had put development of the B-Class F-Cell, its own fuel-cell vehicle, on hold pending the agreement--reasoning that it couldn't be sold at a competitive price.
The new agreement with Renault-Nissan and Ford will enable each company to share development costs--vital if future fuel-cell vehicles are to remain competitive with those from BMW and Toyota, both of whom recently signed their own tech-sharing deal.
Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Nissan and Ford will co-develop a common fuel-cell stack and system that can be used by each company, yet utilized in highly-differentiated vehicles. The brands are hoping that high-profile deals such as this will encourage suppliers, governments and the industry as a whole that hydrogen is worth investing in, making it more viable for mass-market production.
“We are convinced that fuel cell vehicles will play a central role for zero-emission mobility in the future," explains Prof. Thomas Weber, board member for Group Research & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, "Thanks to the high commitment of all three partners we can put fuel cell e-mobility on a broader basis. This means with this cooperation we will make this technology available for many customers around the globe.”
Engineering will be done jointly by each company, at various locations around the world, with the first fruits of the project expected to be available as soon as 2017.
Many are unsure whether hydrogen fuel-cells are even viable on a large scale, and the infrastructure requirements are even greater than that of electric vehicles.
However, with costs split between several large carmakers, we may be seeing the first seeds of cost-effective fuel-cell development now being planted.
Whether that encourages the industry as a whole, and the powers that be in government, is a different matter.