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GM, Honda latest to join forces on fuel cells

By: Mike Colias
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

July 2, 2013

General Motors and Honda Motor Co. will partner to develop a common system for fuel cell vehicles with the goal of getting them into showrooms by 2020, the companies said today.

GM and Honda, both pioneers in fuel cell technology, said their partnership will cut development costs, partly by consolidating their supplier bases for fuel cell components. And they will work to expand refueling infrastructure, considered the biggest barrier to widespread consumer adoption.

The agreement is the latest in a string of alliances created to share the cost of developing a promising but expensive alternative-fuel technology.

Toyota Motor Corp. and BMW AG in January paired up on a fuel-cell production alliance. Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. that same month said they would jointly develop a line of affordable fuel cell electric cars for sale as early as 2017.

Despite the high cost of refueling stations — $1 million to $2 million — automakers are pursuing the technology as part of a broad product approach to meeting stiffer CO2 regulations later this decade. Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-powered vehicles are also part of the approach.

Fuel cell vehicles use a variety of plastics. They are used in the film at the center of each cell, in connectors and cables and hydrogen fuel tanks are typically made of composite.

A fuel cell vehicle creates electricity from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the car's fuel-cell stack. Similar to a battery powered vehicle, the car uses electric motors to propel the car and batteries to store energy. Only water vapor is emitted through the tailpipe.

The cost of developing fuel cell vehicles is high partly because of platinum that is used in the fuel-cell stacks and the complexity of onboard storage of gaseous hydrogen, which requires expensive, carbon fiber storage tanks.

GM and Honda executives say they'll be able to commercialize fuel cell vehicles faster and at less cost than if they worked separately.

"As the two established leaders in advanced fuel cell technology, when we combine our talents and expertise, we believe that together we can and will accomplish more than anyone else can," GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said in prepared remarks for a speech to announce the agreement in New York today.

The companies said that their engineers will work side-by-side to create a common system for use by both automakers. They will share technology already developed and slated for commercial use, including the next generation of Honda's FCX Clarity, which it plans to launch in Japan and the United States in 2015.

GM and Honda were among the first automakers to develop and produce fuel-cell vehicles. Since 2002, Honda has leased 85 fuel cell vehicles, dubbed FCX, and has accumulated promising data from their real-world use, the company said.

In 2007, GM launched a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered Chevy Equinox crossovers for consumers to test in the Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., areas. The fleet has racked up nearly 3 million miles of real-world use for evaluation by GM engineers.