Hydrogen has long been thought of as an ideal alternative to fossil fuels in cars, because it fits in with our current driving habits. Although range is improving, battery electric vehicles still take a long time to recharge, whereas fuel-cell vehicles can be topped up in a matter of minutes. Even so, traditional electric cars tend to dominate the headlines, with few appealing hydrogen options on the market. That could change soon, with GM and Honda investing a combined US$85 million in the mass production of fuel cells.
Although Honda and GM first agreed on a hydrogen collaboration back in 2013, the past four years have been spent establishing an arrangement for the next-generation fuel cell and fuel storage technology. The two companies have pooled development resources, and intellectual property has been shared in search of a more efficient powertrain.
Environmental efficiency is crucial, but the real benefits to the tie-up between the two companies is cost. At the moment, hydrogen fuel cells are expensive to develop and build, which makes them expensive to buy for consumers. With slow sales and a very limited range of cars on the market, refuelling infrastructure is also limited, making it difficult for owners to fully enjoy the driving range of their cars.
By using common suppliers and increasing economies of scale at their Michigan plant, GM and Honda are hoping to drive down production costs. Both will also keep working with governments to grow the infrastructure necessary to make fuel-cell vehicles a viable long-term prospect. All things being equal, mass production of the fuel cell systems is expected to start around 2020.
"The combination of two leaders in fuel cell innovation is an exciting development in bringing fuel cells closer to the mainstream of propulsion applications," says GM's Mark Reuss. "The eventual deployment of this technology in passenger vehicles will create more differentiated and environmentally friendly transportation options for consumers."
This won't be the first time these two brands have dabbled in hydrogen technology. Honda was one of the first brands to create a consumer-ready hydrogen fuel cell model with the Clarity, and Chevrolet has the military ZH2 truck. BMW is also working to develop fuel cell cars, while Hyundai has the fuel cell ix35.
The new fuel cells will be built within GM's battery manufacturing facility in Michigan.