Mercedes fuel-cell GLC plugs in like an electric car: what does that imply? Page 2

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Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Especially in the early years, hydrogen is likely to cost the same or more per mile as gasoline—and in most localities, cost considerably more per mile than electricity.

Feeding a credit card into a hydrogen pump registers even for Mercedes drivers, unless the company chooses (as Toyota and Hyundai have) to give free fuel to their F-Cell buyers for some period of time.

(5) Less expensive fuel cells

If a fuel-cell powertrain is combined with a battery giving 25 to 40 miles of range, carmakers will be able to project the average miles to be covered by each power source over the vehicle's lifetime.

Today's GLC F-Cell may only offer 25 miles on its battery, but the next generation in 2025 or so could offer 40 or more.

That implies that half or more of the vehicle's total mileage could be done on the battery, with the fuel cell only needing to produce power for half as many miles as in fuel-cell-only vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, or Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell.

First 2016 Toyota Mirai in the U.S. delivered at Roseville Toyota

First 2016 Toyota Mirai in the U.S. delivered at Roseville Toyota

Sure, those three all have small batteries to capture otherwise wasted energy via regenerative braking, but they're hybrid-sized—1 to 2 kwh—and don't plug in. Nor can they propel the car alone except at steady speeds on flat grounds, and even then only for a mile or so at best.

A GLC F-Class fuel cell stack that only needs to cover half as many miles should be less expensive than those in the Mirai et al. At least in theory.

(6) Plug-in hybrid approach validated

The addition of a plug-in battery pack to a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle solves exactly the same problems that a plug-in hybrid does.

ALSO SEE: Plug-In Hybrids Are The Best Competitors To Fuel-Cell Vehicles: Here's Why (Oct 2014)

It allows a significant portion of a vehicle's miles to be covered on cheap, easily available grid electricity, while removing the range penalty of an all-electric car.

That's the reason that Chelsea Sexton and other electric-vehicle advocates suggest that plug-in hybrids are by far the most viable short-term competition to fuel-cell vehicles.

They offer similar ranges (300 miles or more), operate as zero-emission vehicles over a significant portion of the miles they cover, and have fast refueling on long-distance trips.

Using gasoline, of course, takes advantage of an existing fuel infrastructure built over more than a century of motor vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell prototype

Sure, gasoline plug-in hybrids aren't zero-emission over all their miles, which fuel-cell vehicles are (disregarding the production of the electricity and hydrogen).

But with its maker planning to offer what are effectively a pair of plug-in hybrid GLC models—one with a gasoline engine, the other with a hydrogen fuel cell—the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell may just provide a market test of which technology buyers prefer.

Not to mention the all-electric ELC version of the same vehicle.

Fascinating times, eh?

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