Aside from the challenges of building an entirely new hydrogen filling station infrastructure, one of the biggest challenges facing the mass marketability of hydrogen fuel cell cars today is the sheer cost of building the complex fuel cell stack at the heart of every hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. While recent advances in hydrogen fuel cell stack technology have reduced the cost of building a hydrogen fuel cell stack by several orders of magnitude compared to fuel cells made ten years ago, making hydrogen fuel cell stacks is still a complex and costly business.
Take the 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan, for example. Despite being Toyota’s first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the 100 kilowatt fuel cell stack at the heart of every Toyota Mirai is — just like the car itself — painstakingly constructed by hand costing Toyota an estimated $50,000 for each and every fuel cell made. And for now, that means a massive loss on each and every Mirai that rolls off the production line. Until that cost drops, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles won’t be profitable for automakers.
Faced with high production costs, automakers are doing what they always do when faced with a new, expensive vehicle technology: collaborate with other automakers in an attempt to bring down costs to a level that is mutually beneficial to both firms.
And that, claims The Asahi Shimbun (via Autobloggreen) is exactly what Honda and General Motors are about to do when it comes to the production of hydrogen fuel cell stacks. Quoting an anonymous senior official at Honda, the newspaper says both companies plan to work together on a joint factory where hydrogen fuel cell stacks will be produced for use in both Honda and GM-brand vehicles.
Due to come online some time “in the 2020s,” the factory would leverage economies of scale and experience from both automakers to produce energy-dense, highly efficient hydrogen fuel cell stacks that will cost far less to produce than the hydrogen fuel cell stacks found in the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Tucson FCV — the only two commercially-available hydrogen fuel cell cars on sale in the world today.
Later this year, Honda will be the third automaker to enter the hydrogen vehicle marketplace with the Clarity Fuel Cell Sedan, a car designed from the ground up to maximize efficiency and vehicle range without compromising interior space. But while Honda will begin to roll out limited-numbers of the Clarity Fuel Cell in March this year, production costs for its first production fuel cell car are expected to be similarly high to the Mirai.
At this point, we should probably point out that collaboration on hydrogen fuel cell cars and fuel cell stacks isn’t exactly new. Indeed, most of the major automakers in the world have already paired up in partnerships which see hydrogen fuel cell vehicles researched and developed in mutually-beneficial circumstances. Ford for example, has partnered with both Daimler and Nissan on sharing fuel cell technology, while Toyota has paired up with BMW.
While neither Honda nor GM have yet confirmed their existing hydrogen fuel cell partnership extends to the building of a joint fuel cell production facility, we’d place this one as certainly plausible. While GM has focused on electrified vehicles in recent years, it has a long-standing hydrogen fuel cell development program and, like most automakers, has been quietly working on the technology alongside electric vehicles to ensure that it can keep up with its competitors in case a hydrogen fuel cell breakthrough occurs.
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