Mercedes Advances Fuel-Cell Launch Date to 2014By Danny King June 24, 2011
Mercedes-Benz, confident that it has overcome the technological hurdles to fielding a fuel-cell electric car, plans to advance the retail launch date for its hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by a full one year as the world's oldest automaker looks to be the first to sell hydrogen-powered cars to the public. The Daimler AG unit will start selling its fuel-cell electric vehicle to the public in 2014, instead of the previously targeted 2015, because of faster-than-expected technical advancements and a relatively problem-free global vehicle testing prorgam, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche said during a media roundtable discussion in New York earlier this week. Zetsche, who also heads Mercedes-Benz, said the car would be able to travel as many as 250 miles between hydrogen pit stops. He didn't disclose prices or whether the retail model would use a different platform than the current B-Class F-Cell test vehicle.
Along with companies like Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and General Motors, Mercedes-Benz - which has invested billions of dollars in the technology - is one of a group of major automakers that have said they would start selling competitively-priced fuel-cell electric vehicles to the public by 2015. FCEVs are viewed as a best-of-all-worlds alternative fuels solution because they can provide a single-tank range similar to a conventional gasoline or diesel vehicle and about three times the single-charge range of a Nissan Leaf battery-electric vehicle while emitting no greenhouse gases. Fuel cells work by converting hydrogen and oxygen to electricity through a thermal-chemical reaction as the gases are passed through a permeable catalyst. Although commercial production of hydrogen for fuel requires considerable amounts of electricity and greenhouse gases are emitted in the production of that power, the fuel cell car itself emits only distilled water the result of mixing hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity is channeled through a lithium-ion battery pack, which stores and uses it to power the car's electric motor.
The primary hurdle for fuel cell cars at this stage of development, Mercedes and other automakers say, is development of an infrastructure to deliver the hydrogen. While Germany is planning 1,000 stations to support 600,000 FCEVs by the end of the decade, plans in the U.S. are much more modest. The California Fuel Cell Partnership, the nation's most active fuel cell promoter hopes to see about 40 hydrogen-fueling stations in the state, supporting 4,000 FCEVs, by the end of 2014. The high cost of producing and distributing hydrogen fuel is one of the factors that has caused the Obama Administration to view automotive fuel-cell technology less favorably than did the George W. Bush administration. Obama's Energy Secretary has slashed funding for fuel-cell development as a result.
Still, Mercedes-Benz appears to be attempting to prove the Obama Administration wrong while gaining a competitive advantage over rival German automakers Volkswagen and BMW, which have lagged Mercedes in fuel-cell development. Mercedes would also get a head start on building up marketable zero-emissions-vehicle (ZEV) credits under California's state mandate requiring the six major automakers selling vehicles in the state to either produce certain numbers of zero emissions vehicles or offset their required quotas by purchasing credits from automakers with excess chits Because Mercedes is not one of the car companies required to market ZEVs in California it can sell all of the credits it would receive for fielding the cars in that states.
In addition to Mercedes' small test fleet of fuel cell cars based on the B-Class compact multipurpose vehicle, two other carmakers are testing fuel cell vehicles with the public. Honda Motor Co. is leasing a small number of its FCX Clarity fuel sell sedans in Southern California, and General Motors recently ended a nationwide public test program with a fleet of 100 Equinox fuel cell crossover vehicles and now is leasing some to businesses for more intensive fleet testing. Mercedes-Benz delivered its first U.S. fuel cell test vehicle - to Vance Van Patten, executive director of the Producers Guild of America at a dealership in Newport Beach, Calif., in December as part of a small-scale leasing demonstration project. The company charges $845 a month for an all-inclusive two-year lease for the car. Its electric motor produces 134 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque and it takes about three minutes to refuel at one of the four hydrogen stations in the region.