Today, DaimlerChrysler demonstrated how far it has come in the development of the fuel cell car with two new vehicles: the Mercedes-Benz A NECAR 5 (New Electric CAR) and the Jeep Commander 2.
In the past six years, the fuel cell drive system on the cars has been shrunk to such an extent that it presently requires no more space than a conventional drive system. The fuel cell uses the energy in the methanol fuel almost twice as efficiently as a gasoline engine.
The company will invest about DM 2 billion (over EUR 1billion) to develop the new drive system from the first prototype to the point of mass production.
In the past six years. DaimlerChrysler has already equipped 16 passenger cars, vans and buses with fuel cell drives. The first vehicle in 1994 was a van crammed chuck-full of technology.
Professor Klaus-Dieter VÃ¶hringer, member of the DaimlerChrysler Board of Management with responsibility for research and technology, predicts the fuel cell will be introduced into vehicles in several stages.
‘In 2002, DaimlerChrysler will deliver the first city buses with fuel cells, followed in 2004 by the first passenger cars,’ says VÃ¶hringer. Up to that time, the vehicles from the first production phase will be using liquid or gaseous hydrogen as a fuel, according to VÃ¶hringer. But in his view ‘these fuels are unlikely to see widespread use because of the high cost of the infrastructure. Nevertheless, we’ll be operating test fleets in several regions of the world to gain experience with daily use of fuel cells. It’s possible that such a test fleet could begin operating in Berlin.’
VÃ¶hringer does not expect high unit sales during the first three years after market introduction, because there will be a limited number of hydrogen filling stations and the technology must first prove its maturity in daily use. ‘The development time of 10 years for a revolutionary new drive system is an extremely short period considering the enormous challenges,’ says VÃ¶hringer.
VÃ¶hringer anticipates the breakthrough will come with the mass introduction of the methanol-driven fuel cell car, which will allow the driver to ‘fill up’ just like today and drive 500 or 600 kilometers on a single tank.