Hannover Messe’s show about electric transportation painted an all-too-familiar picture, with Hyundai and Toyota bringing fuel cell cars to market and German automakers being as cautious as ever. A good example was Daimler, whose employee at the H2 Mobility booth wasn’t allowed to go into much detail when asked about the corporation’s electric vehicle strategy. Instead, Christian Mohrdieck, head of fuel cell development at Daimler and chief executive of NuCellSys, had said shortly before the show, “We’re still at the beginning of all of this. I think fuel cells will start to gain traction, particularly in the transportation sector, in the middle of the next decade, and certainly post-2025. I’m not talking about a sudden boom. Global sales will probably still be in the single digits. […] A technology needs to appeal to both customers and manufacturers for a breakthrough to occur.”
Daimler did exhibit the GLC F-Cell at the shared Hydrogen + Fuel Cells + Batteries space but maintained that it was a preproduction car. There was no mention of a price or factory output. Moreover, the small number of units the automaker is expected to manufacture in 2018 will certainly not be for sale or lease but rent. It is not even sure that they will be delivered before next year. The corporation would only say that it was focused on getting the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell ready for full-scale production, at the Mercedes-Benz factory site in Bremen, Germany. Estimates ranged from 10 to 1,000 units when talking to attendees in Hanover. In the end, though, the number will likely be in the low hundreds.
Hall 27 was also abuzz with rumors about the end of the corporation’s joint venture with Ford in Canada. Based in Burnaby, in the province of British Columbia, and named Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, it had developed Daimler’s fuel cell stack, made up of around 400 individual cells. It was manufactured at nearby Mercedes-Benz Canada Fuel Cell Division before being shipped to Germany, where the entire fuel cell system was assembled in the automaker’s main plant in Stuttgart’s Untertürkheim district. When the contract with Ford expired, some of the joint venture’s staff reportedly found new employment with AVL List, headquartered in Austria. The supplier had announced the May opening of a new R&D site for fuel cells in Vancouver. The aim, according to AVL’s Jürgen Rechberger, was to up the percentage of stack components manufactured in-house.
Daimler stated that the joint venture had achieved what it set out to do, namely to advance stack development at both automakers. Starting this summer, the two corporations would go their separate ways while continuing development on their own. Fuel cell technology would retain an important role in Daimler’s and Ford’s plans to create the next generation of engines, Daimler said. Both were considering creating another partnership.
The automaker also stated its intention to shorten the supply chain and have fuel cell production and assembly concentrated in the Stuttgart region. The work could go to Kirchheim’s Nabern district, the base of NuCellSys, a wholly owned subsidiary. NuCellSys was the one that designed the fuel cell and storage units for the GLC F-Cell and built the first prototypes. Ford’s fuel cell department, on the other hand, rarely makes the news these days, although the corporation is said to be more committed than it appears.