General Motors (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and Honda (NYSE: HMC) announced on Tuesday, July 2, that they will collaborate to develop hydrogen-powered cars. They have joined in a long-term, definitive master agreement to jointly develop a next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies.
For the past decade, automakers have touted electric power as the best propulsion system for a clean-fuel car, and hydrogen fueling has been thought prohibitively expensive in the mass market. However, GM and Honda are now taking the lead in developing sustainable hydrogen power for automobiles, hopeful that it will offer another green alternative. Toyota and Mercedes-Benz have also both announced a strong interest in hydrogen vehicles.
GM and Honda are trying to bring a product to market by 2020. The collaboration aims to produce a common power plant powered by hydrogen, standardize components, and push for more hydrogen fuel stations, which are presently scarce.
“It’s a simple fact,” Honda spokespeople admit. “One day crude oil will dry up.”
On the other hand, hydrogen offers benefits in both renewability and sustainability. “We are convinced this is the best way to develop this important technology,” said GM CEO Dan Akerson. Fuel-cell vehicles can operate not only on natural gas, as most currently do. They can also use renewable hydrogen produced by sources like wind and biomass. The only emission from fuel-cell vehicles is water (in the form of vapor), a commodity that is becoming scarcer every day. However, propelling a car using electricity is about 3 times more efficient than splitting hydrogen to propel a car, so many electric car enthusiasts contend that hydrogen is not the greenest or most efficient solution and we shouldn’t pursue it.
Fuel-cell technology addresses many of the main challenges of gasmobiles, however – energy efficiency, range, refueling times, petroleum dependence, and emissions. This type of propulsion technology can be used on small, medium, and large vehicles. A fuel-cell car has up to 400 miles of driving range and can be refueled in as little as three minutes.
“GM and Honda are acknowledged leaders in fuel cell technology,” says the July 2 press release from General Motors. “According to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index, GM and Honda rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in total fuel cell patents filed between 2002 and 2012, with more than 1,200 between them.”
Honda, for five years the country’s Greenest Automaker, brings to the partnership a comprehensive portfolio of environmental technologies, including hydrogen, battery electric, solar, and natural gas. Honda’s experience with its currently back-ordered Fit EVs, which do not produce any CO2 emissions while in use and come bundled with a free 240-volt EV home charging station, and the FCX Clarity, named the 2009 World Green Car and sold as “the zero-emissions electric vehicle of the future,” add significantly to the joint venture’s attractiveness. The partnership will also take advantage of GM’s early work in battery chemistry and hydrogen fuel-cell technology, Chevy Volt results, the unequaled Project Driveway program, and its OnStar vehicle diagnostics and support system. Each company can contribute huge manufacturing capability (GM, in 30 countries; Honda, in more than 60 plants in 27 nations).
Takanobu Ito, president and CEO of Honda, said that “Honda and GM are eager to accelerate the market penetration of this ultimate clean mobility technology, and I am excited to form this collaboration to fuse our leading fuel cell technologies and create an advanced system that will be both more capable and more affordable.”