9 Major Automakers Sign Letter Agreeing to Develop and Launch Fuel-Cell Vehicles

By Scott Doggett September 9, 2009

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Perhaps motivated by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu's proposal last May to slash more than $100 million in federal funding for hydrogen-vehicle research, nine major automakers today issued a joint statement announcing that they had signed a letter of understanding to develop and launch fuel-cell electric vehicles.

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A trio of Ford FCEVs get pumped up.
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FCEVs use an on-board fuel cell stack to convert hydrogen and oxygen to electricity that powers an electric drive system.

Today's announcement came one day after Chu said in an interview that he will no longer seek to eliminate federal funding for the R&D of hydrogen cars, but instead will work with lawmakers to ensure the money is "invested wisely."

The automakers' announcement states that they "strongly anticipate that from 2015 onwards a quite significant number of electric vehicles with fuel cell could be commercialized. This number is aimed at a few hundred thousand units over life cycle on a worldwide basis."

It continued: "As every vehicle manufacturer will implement its own specific production and commercial strategies as well as timelines, commercialization of electric vehicles with fuel cells may occur earlier than in the above-mentioned expected year."

Beyond those statements, the announcement -- signed by Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Renault, Nissan and Toyota -- offered little more information regarding the automakers' plans.

Rather, it went on to say that they favor the creation of a hydrogen infrastructure in Europe, with Germany as regional starting point, and in other countries,  "including the USA, Japan and Korea as further starting points."

It should be noted that four of the signing automakers (Daimler, Ford, GM and Hyundai) are members of the California Fell Cell Partnership, a group consisting of automobile manufacturers, utilities, government agencies and other entities that are committed to promoting fuel cell vehicle commercialization.

Moreover, under California's Zero Emissions Vehicle Program, all automakers that want to sell vehicles in the state must produce the equivalent of 7,500 fuel-cell and battery-electric vehicles and more than 60,000 plug-in hybrids to meet 2012-2015 requirements as mandated by California's air-quality regulators.

That said, the state gives extra credit to zero-emissions vehicles such as FCEVs. Because California represents such a huge market for most major automakers, all of them view development of the advanced vehicles as an important step toward meeting the ZEV mandate.

Green Car Advisor is attempting to obtain further details and will post them as they become available

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