FRANKFURT -- Daimler's Mercedes-Benz will cease development of fuel cell electric vehicles for its passenger car business and will run out production of the GLC F-CELL, its only fuel cell model.
Instead Daimler will focus on fuel cell systems for heavy-duty vehicles after it agreed on Tuesday to cooperate with Volvo Trucks on the technology.
Due to its high manufacturing costs, production of the GLC F-CELL at the automaker's plant in Bremen, Germany, was limited to a few hundred.
The model was the result of a 2013 agreement with Ford and Nissan to launch fuel cell vehicles at the same time to encourage investment in a hydrogen infrastructure. Only Mercedes followed through to produce a fuel cell vehicle for road use.
The GLC F-CELL was never available for commercial sale. Instead it was mainly reserved for business partners such as hydrogen gas providers Linde and Air Liquide or other large German fleet operators such as the Deutsche Bahn railway company. Private customers could hire the GLC F-CELL via Mercedes-Benz Rent in Germany.
Fuel cell cars have long been touted as an answer to reducing emissions and pollutants because they emit only water vapor. They have a long driving range and a short retanking time, similar to a combustion engine vehicle. But they are at least twice as expensive to build as an equivalent battery-powered car in the manufacturing. As a result, sales prices, if they are even advertised, are not reflective of the cost.
While still touted by brands such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, the expensive technology has lost its appeal with German brands that have embraced battery-electric vehicles as their preferred emissions-free drivetrain.
BMW recently said fuel cell cars lagged their electric competitors in terms of development by a good ten years even as the automaker looked to develop a limited number of fuel cell cars in cooperation with Toyota.
Launched as a small series of GLC F-CELLs in 2018, Mercedes was the last major German brand to continue regularly investing in the technology, having built up expertise over more than 30 years of testing and development.
Excluding the maximum 51 km added by the battery, the GLC F-CELL has a range of about 430 km under NEDC tests, worse than the Mercedes EQC battery-powered equivalent that launched last year.
Best for trucks
Fuel cell drivetrains are considered as more suitable for heavy trucks where battery packs are too heavy and affect truck payload limits imposed by governments to promote greater traffic safety and minimize road damage.
Trucks, like their passenger cars, must meet tough CO2 fleet emission targets that will not be possible to reach in the future without greater electrification.
"The GLC car project is nearly done. As we speak the last GLC fuel cells will be produced and handed over to customers. At the moment we don't plan another car," Daimler Trucks CEO Martin Daum told reporters on Tuesday.
Daimler will pool its fuel cell assets and employees into a new commercial vehicles subsidiary headquartered outside of Stuttgart and sell a 50 percent stake to Volvo Trucks. The partners aim to jointly develop a production fuel cell truck for long haulage that should launch in the second half of the decade. For truck applications such as urban distribution, Daimler will continue to develop battery-powered vehicles.
Daum expects that Daimler and Volvo Trucks will invest 100 million euros to begin with but said a combined 200 million "definitely won't be enough" to bring the technology to series production.
Asked what this potential deal means for fuel cell applications in passenger cars in the future, Daum was optimistic but non-committal.
"We have all the possibilities to come back anytime if there is a market and a necessity," he said.