Joint venture formed to build fuel cell systems in Detroit plant
General Motors and Honda have formed a joint venture to produce next-generation fuel cell systems at a GM battery pack plant near Detroit that will be used by both companies to create future electric vehicles that rely on hydrogen for power and emit nothing but water from the tailpipe.
The two automakers today announced the formation of Fuel Cell System Manufacturing which will mass produce advanced hydrogen fuel cell systems starting around 2020. The venture will create 100 jobs within GM’s battery pack manufacturing site in Brownstown, Michigan. GM and Honda are splitting the $85 million USD investment of the joint venture.
It was back in July 2013 that the two automakers announced an agreement to work on a new and affordable fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies that can be mass produced to reduce cost. They would pool their resources as leaders in fuel cell technology and use common parts in an effort to make it more commercially viable.
“Over the past three years, engineers from Honda and GM have been working as one team with each company providing know-how from its unique expertise to create a compact and low-cost next-generation fuel cell system,” said Toshiaki Mikoshiba, president of Honda North America. “This foundation of outstanding teamwork will now take us to the stage of joint mass production of a fuel cell system that will help each company create new value for our customers in fuel cell vehicles of the future.”
Honda began delivery of its all-new Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle to American customers in December following a spring 2016 launch in Japan. The Clarity Fuel Cell offers an EPA-estimated range of 366 miles (589 km) and fuel economy rating that is the equivalent of 68 mpg (3.5 L/100km).
GM’s Charlie Freese said the next-generation fuel cell system represents 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, said the executive director of Global Fuel Cell Business. “The result is a lower-cost system that is a fraction of the size and mass.”
GM has been testing the technology in a number of applications as work continues to bring fuel cells closer to becoming a mainstream powertrain, said Mark Reuss, GM’s head of Global Product Development. Their use in passenger vehicles “will create more differentiated and environmentally friendly transportation options for consumers.”
Working together should speed development of an affordable system, said Takashi Sekiguchi, chief operating officer of Honda’s Automotive Operations.
GM and Honda have more than 2,220 patents between them, according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index.
The joint venture will be run by a board of directors with three executives from each company. It will also involve a rotating chairperson and the appointment of a president to rotate between each company.
The two companies will also work with governments and others to promote a wider infrastructure of hydrogen stations for the new fuel cell vehicles under development. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on hydrogen made from renewable sources such as wind and biomass.
Toyota has long been a proponent of fuel cell vehicles and started selling the Mirai FCV last year. But Toyota’s chairman said recently that the technology could take longer to catch on because of the limited infrastructure—there are not many pumps and most are in California. Hyundai offers a Tucson FCV for lease in California and is working on a next-generation vehicle.
There are also concerns about whether the initiatives will gain as much traction under the Trump Administration.
Past GM-Honda collaborations include the use of a Honda V-6 engine in the Saturn Vue back in 1999, and Honda has used diesels from GM’s Isuzu affiliate.