Considered as two of the leaders of in fuel cell technology among carmakers, GM and Honda inked in 2013 a long-term agreement to co-develop the next-generation fuel cell system as well as hydrogen storage technologies. The two carmakers also aimed to advance refueling infrastructure to improve the viability of fuel cell vehicles. To achieve this, GM and Honda planned to share expertise and economies of scale as well as pursue common sourcing strategies – thereby making fuel cell systems less costly to produce for the carmaker and more affordable to end consumers.
The agreement resulted in the establishment of the Fuel Cell System Manufacturing LLC (FCSM), a manufacturing joint venture – as its name obviously indicates -- that will focus on the mass production of an advanced hydrogen fuel cell system that will be employed in the upcoming products from GM and Honda. The two carmakers will invest in equal amounts a total of $85 million in the joint venture – the first in the auto industry – with an aim to commence mass production operations by the end of the decade (2020). FCSM will be based within GM’s battery pack production site located in Brownstown, Michigan.
Once FCSM becomes operational, it will employ nearly 100 people and will be led by a board of six directors – three from GM and three from Honda. The board will include a rotating chairman and a rotating president will be named from each company.
Both GM and Honda aren’t new in the fuel cell arena. Between 2002 and 2015, GM and Honda have combined patents – relating to fuel cell technology – numbering more than 2,220, as per the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. However, between the two carmakers, Honda has been quicker to bring fuel cell technology to market. In fact, Honda introduced the hydrogen-powered FCX in 2002 and the FCX Clarity in 2008.
Honda just commenced sales of the third generation of the Clarity in the US. GM, meanwhile, launched its Project Driveway program in 2007, employing a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered vehicles and has millions of miles of real-world driving through them. GM has also been probing the viability of fuel cells in land, sea and air applications. While its recent fuel cell technology has been applied for military mobility use, the carmaker had indicated that it would launch a fuel cell vehicle for the public by 2020.
The pursuit for fuel cell technology is prompted by several challenges currently being faced by today’s vehicles like emissions, dependency on petroleum, efficiency and range. Unlike petroleum, fuel cells could depend on renewable hydrogen derived from sources like wind and biomass – with water vapor as its only waste.