A group of top car makers aims to jointly develop technology to allow fuel cell cars to cover similar distances as petrol engine cars, Reuters reported, citing a Japanese newspaper published on Monday.

The unprecedented effort on fuel cells brings together companies including Toyota, Nissan, DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford, financial daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) said, according to Reuters.

The group of around 20 cars and parts manufacturers will aim to extend the distance fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) can run before refuelling to around 500 km (311 miles) by increasing the fuel storage capacity of the cars, the paper said.

Reuters noted that Toyota and Honda launched the world’s first FCVs simultaneously last month, but they can cover only around 300 km (186 miles) before refuelling, one of the drawbacks of the environmentally friendly cars.

Reuters reported that the Nikkei said the group of car and car parts makers will aim to develop by the end of 2005 fuel tanks which can hold 40% more high-pressure hydrogen than current fuel cells.

The paper said that developing such tanks single-handedly would be costly for one firm, and if the car parts manufacturers can standardise specifications, it will save them the need to supply each of the car makers with different tanks and allow for mass production.

Reuters cited the Nikkei saying that some of the car parts makers taking part included Kokan Drum Co, a subsidiary of NKK Corp and Canadian firm Powertech.