FRANKFURT, Germany DaimlerChrysler is making its first move into fuel cell-powered vehicles by launching an experimental fuel cell bus onto the market.
Within the next three years about 20-30 units of the 70-seat Mercedes-Benz Citaro city bus will be equipped with the fuel cell system and offered to special customers.
About 30 cities from Europe and Australia have expressed interest in taking part in what DCX calls 'a project partnership.' A final list of those that will get buses has not yet been revealed.
DCX will provide the hardware, while the city authorities will gain experience with the new technology. Both DCX and the chosen cities will use the data generated by the field test for further improvements of their products and services.
Each fuel cell bus will cost A1.25 million: about four-to-five times more than a diesel Citaro. The vehicle's electric power unit fits into the rear compartment of the bus. The fuel cell system and eight gas bottles with compressed hydrogen are fixed on the roof. This amount allows a range of about 300 kilometers, roughly the average distance buses in public city transport run per day.
The selling price includes not only the fuel cell buses but also a complete service, training and consultancy package from DCX. As the cities qualify for various subsidies, DCX will help guide them through the jungle of European, national and local legislation.
'About A4 to 5 million is a realistic cost for each city taking part in our project partnership,' said Wolfgang Diez, responsible for Mercedes-Benz and Setra buses. 'This includes three vehicles and the infrastructure. But about 35 percent of the additional vehicle cost (compared to a normal diesel bus) is carried by the EU, and often local companies provide the infrastructure for free.'
Three prototype fuel cell buses have been running for the past year in Chicago, Illinois, USA, and three in Vancouver, Canada, Diez said. Both pilot projects have shown 'excellent' results. After the new field tests in European and Australian cities, which will start at the end of 2002 and run for two years, DCX will start series production of fuel cell buses in 2005.
'By then also the Mercedes-Benz A-Class successor will be available in a fuel cell version,' said Klaus-Dieter Vöhringer, D/C board member research and technology. 'We expect hydrogen to be a common fuel, and available widely in about 20 years. In the short term we believe that methanol will be the base for the hydrogen conversion process,' he added.
Until the new technology makes it into mass production, Vöhringer aims for a further reduction of volume, weight and, most important, cost. 'We have reached our volume goals, but we're still looking to further reduce the weight. There is still a big cost gap between fuel cell and a diesel engine.'
I believe with the cost issue [the fuel cell] will not be competitive [with diesels] over the next decade. But we will bridge this phase,' he said. 'The fuel cell is the future of environmentally friendly and sustainable mobility.'