GM and Honda team up on fuel cell tech

Posted by Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling

The race to develop fuel cell vehicles for what automakers hope will be an interested consumer audience has mildly been heating up of late.

Hyundai, for example, has been for the most part at the forefront as some of its production ready vehicles are now in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark to be used there in a municipal fleet. Now word comes GM and Honda are teaming up to collaborate on next-generation fuel cell technologies.

The two automakers are no slouches when it comes to capital investments in the fuel cell market, ranking No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in total related patents filed between 2002 and 2012, with more than 1,200 between them. This collaboration will find the companies sharing expertise, economies of scale and common sourcing strategies.

image via Honda

image via Honda

GM and Honda said they will also work “with stakeholders to further advance refueling infrastructure, which is critical for the long-term viability and consumer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.” This is an important thing to remember, as without partners to help deployment of hydrogen refueling stations in convenient locales, the fuel cell vehicle industry will be a non-starter.

Fuel cell vehicle development has proceeded at a slow, but steady, pace for the auto companies. GM’s Project Driveway program, launched in 2007, has accumulated nearly 3 million miles of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered vehicles. As for Honda, it began leasing of the Honda FCX in 2002 and has deployed 85 units in the U.S. and Japan, including its successor, the FCX Clarity. It has delivered these vehicles to the hands of customers in the U.S. and collected valuable data concerning real-world use.

A targeted time frame for mass release by those involved in this new green vehicle technology has generally been 2015 to 2016. As it stands now for these two automakers, Honda plans to launch the successor of FCX Clarity in Japan and the United States in 2015, and then in Europe. GM, meanwhile, will announce its fuel cell production plans at a later date.

In case you are wondering what the big deal is about fuel cell vehicles, here are a few things to note, according to GM and Honda:

Fuel cell technology addresses many of the major challenges facing automobiles today – petroleum dependency, emissions, efficiency, range and refueling times. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on renewable hydrogen made from sources like wind and biomass. The only emission from fuel cell vehicles is water vapor.

Additionally, fuel cell vehicles can have up to 400 miles driving range, can be refueled in as little as three minutes, and the propulsion technology can be used on small, medium, and large vehicles.

“Among all zero CO2 emission technologies,” said Takanobu Ito, president & CEO of Honda Motor in a statement, “fuel cell electric vehicles have a definitive advantage with range and refueling time that is as good as conventional gasoline cars.”

* Nino Marchetti, EarthTechling