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Ford, Nissan, Diamler Announce Fuel Cell Co-Op

Sections: Powertrain

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Ford, Diamler, and Nissan officials signal cooperation on FCEV technology

Signifying their companies’ cooperation on fuel cell electric vehicle technoloies from left are Raj Nair, Group Vice President of Global Product Development at Ford Motor Company; Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development; and Mitsuhiko Yamashita, Member of the Board of Directors and Executive Vice President of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., supervising Research and Development.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid the chicken-and-egg scenario faced by today’s crop of electric vehicles (EVs), Ford, Nissan, and Diamler have announced they plan to work together on fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) powertrain technology.

According to a joint press release, the three automotive OEMs will work together to speed consumer-ready FCEV technology to market. By combining their efforts and working on a common project, the hope is that higher production volumes of the fuel cell system they develop would drive down the build cost of such a system. The goal stated in the press release is to have “affordable, mass-market FCEVs” available by 2017.

So there’s at least two parts of the chicken-and-egg scenario potentially solved: improving EV range and ease of energy storage at a potentially lower cost than would be possible if the automakers in question developed their own separate systems. Current battery-powered EVs have single-charge driving ranges that are often too short and refueling/recharging times that are too long for use as a primary car capable of going on long road trips or unexpected jaunts into an adjacent city. Furthermore, the technology needed to overcome those shortcomings is too expensive to be appealing to a majority of car shoppers– a situation unlikely to improve, paradoxically, until more buyers pony up their hard-earned cash to buy cutting-edge EVs.

The triumvirate of automakers here no doubt hope joining forces is a strategy that can kill those concerns right out of the gate, making the fuel cell technology more appealing to the average car buyer. But the part they’ll still need is another thing that has bogged down adoption of current EVs: infrastructure. To that end, the release said this:

“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.”

Egg, chicken. Chicken, egg. While policymakers may be convinced to earmark some tax dollars for hydrogen refueling stations needed to quickly recharge the fuel cells, adoption on a wide scale by the fuel station industry will likely be slow. After all, any business with its eye on the bottom line would be reluctant to stock a product that isn’t in-demand. So without a sufficient number of FCEVs on the road or tax dollars (read: “grant money”) on the table, the owner of the corner gas station is pretty unlikely to go to the expense of installing a hydrogen refueling station.

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