General Motors and Honda have announced the establishment of the auto industry’s first manufacturing joint venture to mass produce an advanced hydrogen fuel cell system that will be used in future products from each company.
Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, LLC will operate within GM’s existing battery pack manufacturing facility site in Brownstown, Michigan, south of Detroit. Mass production of fuel cell systems is expected to begin around 2020 and create nearly 100 new jobs. The companies are making equal investments totalling US$85m in the joint venture.
Honda and GM have been working together through a master collaboration agreement announced in July 2013. It established the co-development arrangement for a next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies. The companies integrated their development teams and shared hydrogen fuel cell intellectual property to create a more affordable commercial solution for fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems.
“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, chief operating officer of the North American Region for Honda Motor and president & CEO of American Honda and 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.”
The Fuel Cell System Manufacturing (FCSM) joint venture will be operated by a board of directors consisting of three executives from each company that will include a rotating chairperson. In addition, a president will be appointed to rotate between each company.
GM and Honda are acknowledged leaders in fuel cell technology with more than 2,220 patents between them, according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. GM and Honda rank Number-1 and Number-3, respectively, in total fuel cell patents filed in 2002 through 2015.
“The combination of two leaders in fuel cell innovation is an exciting development in bringing fuel cells closer to the mainstream of propulsion applications,” said Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “The eventual deployment of this technology in passenger vehicles will create more differentiated and environmentally friendly transportation options for consumers.”
Fuel cell technology addresses many of the major challenges facing automobiles today: petroleum dependency, emissions, efficiency, range and refuelling times. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on hydrogen made from renewable sources such as wind and biomass. Water vapour is the only emission from fuel cell vehicles.
In addition to advancing the performance of the fuel cell system, GM and Honda are working together to reduce the cost of development and manufacturing through economies of scale and common sourcing. The two companies also continue to work with governments and other stakeholders to further advance the refuelling infrastructure that is critical for the long-term viability and consumer acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.
GM is currently demonstrating the capability of fuel cells across a range of land, sea and air applications. The company has accumulated millions of miles of real-world driving in fuel cell vehicles.
“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,” said Charlie Freese, GM executive director of Global Fuel Cell Business. “The result is a lower-cost system that is a fraction of the size and mass.”
Honda began delivery of its all-new Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle to US customers in December 2016 following a spring 2016 launch in Japan. The Clarity Fuel Cell received the best driving range rating from the EPA of any electric vehicle without a combustion engine with a range rating of 366 miles and fuel economy rating of 68 miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent combined.
“The expertise Honda has established that led to creation of the first-generation Clarity fuel cell system is valuable experience that we are leveraging in the joint development of the next-generation fuel cell system with GM,” said Takashi Sekiguchi, managing officer and director and chief operating officer of Automotive Operations, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. “Our collaboration is an opportunity to further utilise the strengths of each company to popularise fuel cell vehicles at the earliest possible time.”
GM and Honda collaborated in a powertrain cross-supply arrangement in 1999 under which Honda manufactured 50,000 V-6 engines for the Saturn VUE and Honda received diesel engines from GM’s Isuzu affiliate for use in Europe.
Research conducted for just-auto’s research arm, QUBE, points out that for hydrogen vehicles to achieve significant volume, two things must happen: Regional networks of hydrogen filling stations will have to be put in place before the cars arrive, with large-scale hydrogen production to supply them; and hydrogen manufacturing must have a carbon profile competitive with plug-ins, natural gas vehicles, and far more efficient petrol and diesel cars. However, the high price of hydrogen fuelling stations acts as a considerable constraint.