Two of the automakers most committed to a hydrogen fuel cell future have agreed to work together on the technology. General Motors Co., producer of about a half-dozen concept and production fuel cell vehicles, said last week that it will team up with Honda Motor Co., which currently offers a fuel cell car.
"This combines two of the biggest programs," David Hurst, senior analyst for Navigant Research, told us. "But there is significant science yet to be done, and it can be costly. This allows them to share the cost of some of that fundamental research."
The two automakers agreed to split the research and man hours required to develop the technology. The agreement could give them an edge on other automakers with fuel cell programs in the works, including Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai.
Click the image below for a slideshow on GM and Honda efforts in this field.
GM's Hy-Wire concept car combined hydrogen fuel cells with drive-by-wire technology. (Source: Wikipedia)
GM built its first fuel cell concept vehicle, the Electrovan, in 1966. It has since built the HydroGen1 (2001), AUTOnomy (2002), Hy-Wire (2003), Chevy Sequel (2005), and Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell concept vehicle (2007).
Honda marketed the FCX fuel cell vehicle in 2002 and rolled out versions of the FCX Clarity, a low-volume production fuel cell car, in 2008 and 2011.
Even with the Honda-GM announcement, industry analysts expect the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road to remain miniscule over the next few years. A Navigant report this spring (registration required) predicts that annual US sales of such vehicles will reach about 3,700 by 2020, compared with 130,000 for battery-electric vehicles.
Research efforts are still mostly targeting the cost of fuel cells. "At the moment, fuel cells are still using platinum as one of the main catalysts," Hurst said. "Researchers are trying to figure out how to reduce the use of platinum, because it's so costly." Most automakers are hoping to cut the cost of fuel cell vehicles to below $50,000.
"We expect 2015 to be the first year when we'll see automakers dipping a toe in the fuel cell retail environment," he said. "But even then, it's going to be several years before we see any real production numbers."
I don't think we need to worry about anti-trust violations, Al. At least not yet. This reminds me of the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, which was formed by GM, Ford and Chrysler in about 1990. It was never a problem, as far as I know.
Although we're going to see a few a few production vehicles by 2015, we're a long way from big volumes, Rob. By 2020, we're expecteing 3,700 fuel cell vehicles in the U.S., which is about two-hundredths of one percent.
Interesting development, Chuck. Any insights on whether this is unusual or if there are synergies here that make sense? I would think there would be a fundamental conflict in working together or at least a worry that you might be helping a main competitor.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.