HONDA and its American market rival General Motors are set to establish the car industry's first joint ventures to mass produce an advanced hydrogen fuel cell system for use in future products from each company.
Called Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, the new $170 million facilities will be added to GM's existing battery pack factory in Brownstown, Michigan, not far from the company's Detroit headquarters.
The companies have been working on the joint venture since mid-2013, and their plan to produce next-generation hydrogen fuel cells means integrating their development teams and sharing their intellectual property to develop an affordable commercial solution.If all goes to plan, mass production of the compact, relatively low-cost fuel cells will start in 2020.
The Fuel Cell System Manufacturing joint venture will be managed by a board of directors with equal representation from each partner. Both Honda and General Motors are acknowledged leaders in fuel cell technology and hold more than 2220 patents between them, all filed between 2002 and 2015.
Fuel cell technology addresses many of the major challenges facing the world's car industry, namely oil dependency, emissions, vehicle efficiency, range and refuelling times. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on hydrogen made from renewable sources such as wind and biomass, and the only emission is water.
In addition to advancing the performance of the fuel cell system, the Honda and GM partnership should be able to reduce development and manufacturing costs through economies of scale in manufacturing and common parts sourcing.
As well as developing the physical fuel cell units, the two companies are also working with governments, businesses and suppliers to develop the physical refuelling infrastructure needed to make the new power systems not only viable but also acceptable to consumers.
The partners say their next-generation fuel cell system will have a lower unit cost and higher volume. Precious metal use will be reduced, and advanced manufacturing processes will help with advances in design, meaning a lower-cost system that is smaller and lighter.
Honda started delivering its Clarity fuel-cell car in the United States in December last year following its launch in Japan. The car received the best driving range rating for a pure electric vehicle from America's Environmental Protection Agency, returning 589 kilometres from one tank of fuel and returning a combined average 3.46 litres/100km fuel consumption compared to an equivalent petrol-powered car.
Honda says the expertise that created Clarity fuel cell system will allow the venture partners will give leverage to the joint development of the next-generation fuel cell system.
Honda and General Motors have collaborated on powertrains in the past but on a cross-supply arrangement rather than co-development. In 1999 Honda built and supplied 50,000 of its 3.0 and 3.5-litre V-6 engines for the Saturn Vue SUV, a car built by GM's now-defunct Saturn division. At the same time, Honda used diesel engines built by GM's Isuzu affiliate to use in some of its European market models.
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