Three major automakers are banding together to get fuel cell vehicles on the road faster.
Ford, Nissan and Daimler said Monday they have signed a three-way agreement for joint development of a common fuel cell system to put affordable fuel cell electric vehicles on the road as early as 2017.
Each company will invest equally but the total investment was not disclosed.
Fuel cells have long been touted as an ultimate clean energy solution. Electricity is generated from hydrogen and oxygen with only water coming out of the tailpipe. But the expensive technology has always been more of a long-term hope than an affordable option.
This summer, Toyota made it seem more real with the announcement that it is on course to sell fuel cell vehicles in 2015, likely starting small in California.
Honda has leased the FCX Clarity since 2008, mostly in California. A new fuel cell electric car for North America and Europe is coming in 2015 with next-generation technology that is better and less costly.
Hyundai and Kia also plan to offer a fuel cell vehicle in 2015.
That means Ford, Daimler and Nissan are playing catch-up.
Technology tie-ups are becoming increasingly popular to share the development and engineering costs and to speed innovation to market.
Toyota and BMW have partnered to launch fuel cell vehicles around 2020.
Toyota is also working with Ford on a hybrid system for rear-drive trucks by 2020.
By designing a common fuel cell system for three large automakers, the partners can minimize costs and maximize sales volumes.
Even so, fuel cell vehicles will be more expensive than conventional vehicles, said Sandy Stojkovski, president of Scenaria, an analytical division of AVL.
"Fuel cells won't be commercially viable by 2017," Stojkovski said. "If you're trying to make money this decade, fuel cells are not what you would invest in."
Stojkovski said she does not expect critical mass of fuel cells on the road before 2025.
But it is important that automakers pursue the technology so it becomes viable in future generations, much like hybrids took many years to become feasible.
The fuel cell consortium covers the globe with Ford based in the U.S., Daimler in Germany and Nissan in Japan. Work will proceed in multiple locations, and the partners will define global specifications and component standards.
The project also tells suppliers, policymakers and the industry that fuel cell development is still seen as a viable alternative if an adequate network of hydrogen fueling stations can be established.
All three companies have spent decades working on this technology and developed demonstration vehicles that have logged more than 6 million miles in test drives.
"Fuel cell electric vehicles are the obvious next step to complement today's battery electric vehicles as our industry embraces more sustainable transportation," Mitsuhiko Yamashita, Nissan board member and head of research and development, said in a statement.
At Daimler, "We are convinced that fuel cell vehicles will play a central role for zero-emission mobility in the future," said Thomas Weber, board of management member in charge of research and Mercedes-Benz Cars.
Raj Nair, Ford's head of global product development, said, "Working together will significantly help speed this technology to market at a more affordable cost to our customers. We will all benefit from this relationship as the resulting solution will be better than any one company working alone."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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