Daimler AG, the third-biggest maker of luxury vehicles, and Ford Motor Co. added Nissan Motor Co. as a partner in developing fuel cells for electric cars, which the manufacturers plan to start selling in 2017.
The companies plan over time to build a combined 100,000 vehicles powered by the technology, Thomas Weber, Daimler’s head of research and development, said today at a press conference in Nabern, Germany. The carmakers will invest equal amounts in the project to create fuel-cell stacks and systems, they said in a joint statement, without giving details.
The technology would be a shift from the companies’ battery-powered models already on the market, such as Nissan’s Leaf and versions of Daimler’s two-seat Smart city car. Toyota Motor Corp., the largest producer of hybrid models powered by both electricity and gasoline or diesel, agreed on Jan. 24 to work on fuel-cell technology among joint projects planned with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the top-ranked luxury-car producer.
“This technology has the biggest potential for emission-free driving” compared with other alternative powertrains, Weber said. “This cooperation gives us the opportunity to bind together the know-how of three experienced partners” to enable commercial production of cars running on the powering system.
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 closer to combustion engine vehicles and fueling time is comparable to filling up a gasoline tank.
Carmakers are collaborating on the technology to share costs and achieve higher volumes once production starts. Higher volume will strengthen the partners’ position when negotiating with suppliers, Weber said.
Nissan will work under contract with Daimler, the owner of the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand, and Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford without taking a stake in their existing Automotive Fuel Cell Corp. joint venture, to avoid time-consuming negotiations, Herbert Kohler, head of future technology at the German carmaker, said at the press conference.
The partners want to send a “clear signal” to governments and suppliers of the need to develop a hydrogen-fueling infrastructure worldwide, the companies said. Germany needs a wider hydrogen filling-station network than the current 15 outlets, Weber said.
The project will use the partners’ existing development centers in Detroit, Tokyo, Vancouver and Daimler’s headquarters city of Stuttgart, Germany, they said. Nissan is based in Yokohama, Japan, and is that country’s second-biggest carmaker.
“We can proceed quicker, as we can develop around the clock,” Weber said.
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 vehicles, Weber said. Mercedes currently has a test fleet of about 200 fuel-cell cars.