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GM and Honda Team Up on Fuel Cells

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On: Tue, Jul 16, 2013 at 8:45AM | By: Chris Weiss

GM and Honda Team Up on Fuel Cells

In an effort to get one of the most promising next-generation green driving technologies off the ground more quickly, General Motors and Honda announced a partnership recently. The two automakers will work together on developing a fuel cell system and hydrogen storage systems for supporting fuel cell electric vehicles. They have cited 2020 as a timeline.

As we discussed when looking at the upcoming Toyota fuel cell sedan, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles are not quite ready for mass consumption. While they blend some of the best elements of gas and electric powered cars, production prices remain high and fueling infrastructure remains extremely limited. Toyota's vehicle is expected to cost around $70,000 and will be impractical outside of southern California, where hydrogen fueling infrastructure is currently concentrated.

The GM-Honda partnership should help to address fuel cells' two major issues. By partnering together on technology, GM and Honda hope to develop economies of scale, which could help drive vehicle prices down in the future. They will also work on hydrogen storage solutions and expect to work with other industry stakeholders on further developing fueling infrastructure.

"Among all zero CO2 emission technologies, fuel cell electric vehicles have a definitive advantage with range and refueling time that is as good as conventional gasoline cars," Takanobu Ito, president & CEO of Honda Motor Co. Ltd., said. "Honda and GM are eager to accelerate the market penetration of this ultimate clean mobility technology, and I am excited to form this collaboration to fuse our leading fuel cell technologies and create an advanced system that will be both more capable and more affordable."

Fuel cell vehicles utilize electric motors, but instead of storing power in a battery, they create it with an electro-chemical reaction between stored hydrogen and air. As such, they can be refueled in minutes, more similarly to gas vehicles than battery-powered electrics. Plus a single tank of hydrogen will offer longer driving ranges than a single battery charge, with gas-like ranges of 300 to 400 miles being commonly cited. The fuel cell process emits no greenhouse gases, only water vapor. Hydrogen can also be produced domestically so would limit dependence upon foreign oil.

GM and Honda have both been working on fuel cell vehicles of their own for a number of years. GM launched its Project Driveway program in 2007 and has accumulated nearly three million miles of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered vehicles, more than any other automaker. Honda began leasing its FCX in 2002 and has deployed 85 units in the U.S. and Japan, including its successor, the FCX Clarity, which was named the 2009 World Green Car. The Clean Energy Patent Growth Index ranks GM and Honda No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in total fuel cell patents filed between 2002 and 2012, with more than 1,200 between them. Like Toyota, Honda expects to get a fuel cell vehicle to market by 2015.

Given the potential of fuel cell vehicles and the formidable obstacles that stand in the way of mass production and adoption, we wouldn't be surpised to see more partnerships. Other automakers, such as Hyundai, Toyota, and Daimler/Mercedes are also working on fuel cell technology.


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