Beginning in October, 30 Focus FCVs (fuel-cell vehicles) will be shipped to organizations and local governments in Michigan, California, Florida, and British Columbia so Ford can evaluate its performance in real-world situations. The fleet is Ford’s contribution to a Department of Energy initiative to promote development of hydrogen-based technologies. And they represent an important test of the automaker’s progress on the fuel-cell front. General Motors Corp. introduced fuel-cell vehicles to the world in the late 1960s, but the industry has been slow to develop the technology, according to the Detroit News.
Ford, GM, Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co. have fleets of test vehicles. DaimlerChrysler AG has the largest fleet with 100 vehicles. While automakers see hydrogen technology as a potential successor to internal combustion engines, and forecasts call for mass production of fuel-cell vehicles as early as 2015, skeptics point out the considerable challenge of establishing an infrastructure for hydrogen delivery. Other hurdles range from finding a cost-effective and clean way to produce hydrogen to concerns about the effects of cold weather on fuel-cell performance. The initial challenge Ford faced was deciding how to package its fuel-cell technology, which is derived from a partnership with DaimlerChrysler and Ballard Power Systems of British Columbia, Canada. Ford and DaimlerChrysler recently moved to buy a Ballard subsidiary, Ballard AG — an investment that cost Ford $110 million against its second-quarter earnings. Ford and DaimlerChrysler will continue to buy Ballard components, but to ensure greater compatibility with their vehicles, the automakers — through Ballard AG — will have full control of system integration by taking more responsibility for design and software development. When the Focus was chosen to showcase the system, MSX was tapped to help redesign the car’s exterior, allowing for the fuel cell powertrain’s larger size and added weight. The fuel-cell powered Focus tips the scale at 3,525 pounds, just over 800 pounds more than a top-end conventionally powered Focus. Ford is using an existing vehicle to save time and money. Ford, the United Auto Workers, and MSX collaborated on a solution that enabled the automaker to use its Focus body assembly process at its assembly plant in Wayne. The resulting skeletons, which feature weight-saving carbon fiber trunk lids and aluminum fenders, are trucked to the Mt. Elliott facility where a crew of 30 oversees final assembly of the Focus FCV. Except for subtle differences, such as a rear-seat armrest that hides electronic componentry, the Focus FCV is nearly indistinguishable from the standard Focus. Ford has partnered with BP plc to set up hydrogen fueling stations in each region where the vehicles will go into service. The FCV stores its fuel in trunk-mounted cylinders that virtually eliminate cargo space. Ford already has plans to double the Focus FCV’s fuel-carrying capacity, which will increase its range to more than 300 miles per fill-up. The Focus FCV will achieve fuel economy that is equivalent to 50 miles per gallon in a conventionally powered car, while emitting only water vapor.