Three of the world’s biggest automakers have joined forces in an unprecedented campaign to develop and bring to market new clean energy vehicles powered by a fuel-cell powertrain by 2017.
Fuel cells have been in use for many years in large applications, especially submarines where quiet power generation is required, and in space vehicles like NASA’s Space Shuttle.
The technology produces electricity by mixing hydrogen and oxygen. The only byproducts of the process is water and heat, so the fuel cell is a genuinely clean power source.
The strategic cooperation agreement announced today includes Ford, Nissan and Daimler and focuses on four primary points:
- Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., have signed a unique three-way agreement for the joint development of common fuel cell system to speed up availability of zero-emission technology and significantly reduce investment costs.
- Collaboration expected to lead to launch of world’s first affordable, mass-market fuel cell electric vehicles as early as 2017.
- Unique collaboration across three continents and three companies will help define global specifications and component standards.
- Sends clear signal to suppliers, policymakers and the industry to encourage the further development of hydrogen infrastructure worldwide.
Essentially, the three carmakers decided to pool their resources as the quickest way of getting credible fuel-cell vehicles to the mass market.
“The goal of the collaboration is to jointly develop a common fuel cell electric vehicle system while reducing investment costs associated with the engineering of the technology,” the joint statement said.
“Each company will invest equally towards the project. The strategy to maximize design commonality, leverage volume and derive efficiencies through economies of scale will help to launch the world’s first affordable, mass-market FCEVs as early as 2017.
“Together, Daimler, Ford and Nissan have more than 60 years of cumulative experience developing FCEVs. Their FCEVs have logged more than 10 million km in test drives around the world in customers’ hands and as part of demonstration projects in diverse conditions.
“The partners plan to develop a common fuel cell stack and fuel cell system that can be used by each company in the launch of highly differentiated, separately branded FCEVs, which produce no CO2 emissions while driving.”
It also appears the three companies were concerned about sparking supplier activity in sufficient time to make the 2017 introduction date feasible:
“The collaboration sends a clear signal to suppliers, policymakers and the industry to encourage further development of hydrogen refueling stations and other infrastructure necessary to allow the vehicles to be mass-marketed,” the statement said.
“Working together will significantly help speed this technology to market at a more affordable cost to our customers,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, Global Product Development, Ford Motor Company.
“We will all benefit from this relationship as the resulting solution will be better than any one company working alone,” Nair added.
The deal marks a turning point in the auto industry’s approach to fuel-cell development. In the mid-1990s, Daimler seemed to be headed toward incorporating fuel-cell powertrains in its offerings, but the effort never quite jelled.
President George W. Bush tried to jolt the development cycle into high gear with more than $1.2 billion in research subsidies, beginning in 2003.
Then Honda produced its FCX fuel cell concept vehicle in 2008, but until the announcement today no manufacturer had promised to bring fuel-cell vehicles to the mass market by a date certain.
You can read the full statement from the three automakers here.