General Motors (GM) and Honda have announced they are to expand their alliance in hydrogen car technology by jointly manufacturing key components to power their fuel cell vehicles in the US.
A 50-50 joint venture, the carmakers will invest $85 million (€79 million) between them as they aim to tackle the high current costs of producing fuel cell systems through increased scale and the sharing of components.
The partnership will produce fuel cell components from around 2020, using GM’s Brownstown Township plant in Michigan. The fuel cell stacks created will be shipped to other factories where they will be installed into vehicles. The fuel cell system will be deployed in two separate vehicles – one for GM and one for Honda.
The two companies joined forces to develop hydrogen cars in 2013 as they looked for ways to cut costs and to create smaller, lighter, cheaper and more powerful fuel cell stacks.
GM executive director of Global Fuel Cell Business Charlie Freese said: ‘With the next-generation fuel cell system, GM and Honda are making a dramatic step toward lower cost, higher-volume fuel cell systems. Precious metals have been reduced dramatically and a fully cross-functional team is developing advanced manufacturing processes simultaneously with advances in the design. The result is a lower-cost system that is a fraction of the size and mass.’
While many proponents say hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the best long-term alternative to internal combustion engines (petrol and diesel), technological and cost challenges remaining high and the infrastructure required for hydrogen refuelling stations has been slow to develop and lacks sufficient coverage. However, this may be about to change with the founding of the Hydrogen Council in Davos this year, which includes deep-pocket oil majors and of which Honda is a member.
The GM-Honda joint venture will create 100 new jobs in the US by 2020. Honda has said its decision to shift production of the fuel cell system from Japan to GM’s existing Michigan facility was not affected by President Trump’s pressures on carmakers to manufacture US-bound vehicles in the US. Perhaps they should have taken the opportunity for good publicity by construing the announcement as a win for the president at company level. In the absence of this, it was left to Toshiaki Mikoshiba, head of Honda’s North American operations to play to the politics of the new Trump administration. He said: ‘The vast majority of the cars and trucks we sell here are built in America. We also wanted this new fuel cell system to be built in the United States.’
Meanwhile, according to research firm Information Trends, there will be 5000 hydrogen fuelling stations deployed worldwide by 2032, compared to 300 today. Leading in the introduction of hydrogen infrastructure will be Japan and Korea, with strong interest particularly from Japan’s Toyota and Honda. In Europe, Germany plans to establish 400 hydrogen fuelling stations over the next six years. In a 2016 report, Information Trends predicted 20 million fuel cell vehicles will be sold worldwide by 2032.
Today there are currently only three OEMs that sell fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) to the public: Japan’s Honda (Clarity) and Toyota (Mirai), and Korea’s Hyundai (ix35 FCEV). Honda has sold 118 units of its Clarity hydrogen car worldwide since its release last year. GM on its part has yet to launch a mass-production vehicle but has invested more than $2.5 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology. Honda rival Toyota, which launched the Mirai in late 2014, aims to sell more than 30,000 hydrogen vehicles annually worldwide by around 2020, which is 10 times its 2017 production target.
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