Daimler, Ford and Nissan joined forces to develop a line of affordable fuel cell cars for sale starting in 2017 in what could be the first major advance for the promising zero-emission technology.
The three automakers, in a statement, said the new alliance sends a clear signal to suppliers, policymakers and the industry to encourage the further development of hydrogen infrastructure worldwide.
“We believe we were never as close to reaching a breakthrough in fuel cell cars as today thanks to this partnership,” Daimler research and development chief Thomas Weber said.
The partners are targeting production of at least 100,000 cars, Thomas Weber, Daimler’s head of research and development, said today at a press conference in Germany. The manufacturers will invest equal amounts in the project to develop fuel-cell stacks and systems, they said in the statement, without giving details.
Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW announced a partnership on Jan. 24 to develop fuel-cell systems, in addition to cooperation in other areas including light-weight technologies and a common sports-car platform.
Fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, evaporating water as emissions when the car is driven. Compared to electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel-cell cars have a range close to combustion engine vehicles and fueling time is comparable to filling up a gasoline tank.
Nissan won’t take a stake in the existing joint venture Automotive Fuel Cell Corp. between Daimler and Ford to avoid time-consuming contract negotiations, said Herbert Kohler, Daimler’s head of future technology.
Joint developments allow the manufacturers to share costs and achieve higher volumes once production starts. Daimler and its partners are using their project to send a “clear signal” to governments and suppliers of the need to develop a hydrogen- fueling infrastructure worldwide.
“We can proceed quicker as we can develop around the clock,” Weber said. The project will use the partners’ existing development centers in Detroit, Tokyo, Vancouver and Daimler’s hometown of Stuttgart, Germany.
Each partner will market its own branded vehicles, probably starting with front-wheel-drive models, Weber said.
“This powertrain is the start of a modular strategy,” he said. “It has to be adaptable into several models.
The partnership is open to other manufacturers, including Nissan’s French global alliance partner, Renault SA, Weber said.
Daimler is skipping an intermediate step of fuel-cell technology development that was originally planned for 2014 with smaller numbers of cars, Weber said. Daimler currently has a test fleet of about 200 fuel-cell cars.