Fuel-cell bike scoots into production

The launch of the world’s first fuel cell-powered motor-scooter has moved a step closer after a major engineering group took a stake in the company behind the project.

The UK will be one of the first target markets for the Vectrix fuel cell/electric scooter, which its US developers claimed is the first full-size, high-performance vehicle of its kind.

Parker Hannifin, the global motion control systems group that helped develop the vehicle’s underlying technology, has invested in Vectrix to help it bring the scooter, called the VX-FC, into full-scale production.

The two companies claimed the scooter is comparable in performance terms to a 400cc petrol model, while offering low emissions and big savings on running costs.

Launch of a purely battery-powered version of the vehicle is imminent, with the first models expected to go on sale in scooter-friendly European markets such as the UK and Italy by 2006. The scooter is expected to sell for between £4,000 and £5,000.

Vectrix and Parker recently unveiled a second-generation version, called the VX-FCe, which has a 500W fuel cell integrated into the battery-powered system. The hybrid scooter has a top speed of 62mph and a range of up to 150 miles, according to its developers, and is expected to go on sale within three years.

The battery pack provides the rapid bursts of power needed by the scooter during acceleration and while travelling uphill. The fuel cell provides a continuous stream of power to the battery to keep it topped up, automatically shutting down when the scooter is fully charged.

The VX-FC also features regenerative throttle technology, which reverses the polarity of the electric motor to direct back into the battery energy usually dissipated during braking. This extends the scooter’s range by up to 12 per cent, according to Vectrix, and also reduces wear and tear on its brakes.

Parker Hannifin, which provided engineering development resources from 12 of its divisions to support the scooter project, said it expected to begin earning returns on its investment within five years.

The fuel cell technology used on the scooter could also have applications in other industries, the company added.