We've been following the Ford fuel cell fleet for two years now, and have done our own in-depth test drive of the hydrogen-powered Focus. Ford has been keeping a detailed record of their own experience with these advanced powertrain vehicles and likes what it sees. The company announced today that the Focus Fuel Cell vehicles "performed better than expected" and will be on the road for up to an additional two years thanks to an extension of the program Ford has with the U.S. DOE. Thus far, the advanced fleet has traveled more than 865,000 "real world miles" and these vehicles will go many more before the next-generation hydrogen system is ready around 2010. That system should address weaknesses in the current one, and be able to go farther on a tank of hydrogen, be more reliable and start up when it's below freezing out. Details after the jump.

[Source: Ford]

PRESS RELEASE:

FORD FUEL CELL FLEET EXCEEDS PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS, TEST PROGRAM EXTENDED

* The first generation Focus Fuel Cell vehicles have performed better than expected, exceeding 865,000 real world miles and earning praise from fleet users around the world.
* Ford has extended its three-year-old hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle program for up to 24 months.
* Ford is developing a next generation fuel cell vehicle that will build on the success of the current program with improved performance, reliability and efficiency.

DEARBORN, Mich., August 19, 2008 – Ford Motor Company's fleet of 30 fuel cell vehicles has exceeded expectations of the company's hydrogen research engineers by accumulating more than 865,000 real world miles without significant maintenance issues since the fleet's launch three years ago. The Ford Focus Fuel Cell test vehicles also have earned accolades from the company's global fleet partners for outstanding durability, reliability and capability.

Encouraged by the program's success, Ford recently reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to extend its three-year-old hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle program for up to 24 months, until the next generation system is ready for deployment in the 2010 timeframe.

Ford was one of the first automakers to launch a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in 2005, after unveiling a prototype in late 2003. Its Focus Fuel Cell fleet partners include a variety of government agencies in California, Florida, Michigan, Canada, Germany and Iceland, where cold climate testing is expected to result in significant performance improvements on the next generation.

Additional Ford hydrogen projects have included a fleet of 20 H2ICE (hydrogen internal combustion engine) buses, the Fusion Hydrogen 999 that set a land speed record in 2007, a Fuel Cell Explorer and a Plug-in Hybrid Edge that uses a fuel cell-powered HySeries DriveTM.

An H2 fuel cell vehicle produces electricity through an electro-chemical process in the fuel cell stack. There are zero tailpipe emissions when using this technology, with only drops of water coming from the tailpipe. Experts maintain that widespread use of H2-fueled vehicles could help eliminate CO2 emissions that contribute to global climate change.

"It's important for Ford to remain active in hydrogen and fuel cell development as a long-term renewable fuel solution," said Roland Krueger, Ford of Europe hydrogen and fuel cell technologies team leader.

According to Ford's global fuel cell team, the first generation Focus Fuel Cell vehicles have lasted three times longer and worked much better than originally expected with virtually no degradation in performance. In light of that success, the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), which shares the program's operating cost with Ford, agreed to extend the program.

"We've had a lot of great experience with these cars and they're running quite well," said Scott Staley, Ford hybrid and fuel cell development chief engineer in North America. "We expected the fuel cells to be much more problematic under real world conditions, but it's a credit to our development process that the vehicles have been very robust."

Ford supports its fuel cell fleet partners with local project managers and technicians who conduct regular service checks, and collect mileage and performance data for analysis at Ford's Fuel Cell Center in Dearborn, Mich. The vehicles have proven highly reliable, averaging 96 percent "up" time. Customer surveys indicate that Ford's fuel cell vehicles have outperformed those of other automakers in areas of acceleration, comfort (primarily air conditioning performance), durability, reliability and mileage.

"We're very satisfied with the Ford's performance, range and overall reliability, and we're encouraged that the DOE is extending the program, because much more work needs to be done to advance this technology to commercialization," said Gerhard Achtelik, manager of the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Section of California's Air Resources Board. "Having zero-emission vehicles like the Ford in our fleet ensures that we continue to promote clean transportation."

Ford researchers agree that much more work needs to be done before fuel cell vehicles can be commercialized. The biggest challenge according to Rob Riley, Ford fleet manager in California, is building a viable H2 infrastructure with fueling stations across the country. Currently, there are 70 hydrogen fueling stations and most of them are not accessible to the public. California is leading the way having recently opened its 24th station.

Customer surveys suggest purchase consideration also will be dictated by affordability, reliability and useful life of the vehicle, as well as availability of fueling stations. In addition, parts availability and an adequate number of trained technicians will be essential to ensure convenient customer service of the vehicles.

A chief concern among fleet partners is limited driving range. Ford is addressing that need by doubling fuel storage pressure on select fleet vehicles allowing twice the fuel to be stored in the same volume.

"With continued advancement and rigorous testing of this technology, automakers will be in able to produce fuel cell vehicles that compete very effectively with internal combustion engines, without compromise to performance, safety, cost or reliability," Riley said.

Fuel storage capacity and other improvements on the current generation of vehicles have put Ford in a favorable position for the implementation of the next generation, according to Chris Gearhart, Ford fuel cell technical specialist. The team is expecting significantly increased fuel cell life, better mileage, more efficient use of platinum (a key catalyst), more power from a smaller fuel cell stack, improved reliability, and the ability to start under frozen conditions.

"We're so much farther ahead than we were on the first generation," Gearhart said. "We have better development processes and robust disciplines in the way we're doing things."

Staley concurred, adding: "Our fuel cell customers are very interested to know what's next, and we're looking forward to demonstrating it."

H2-fueled vehicles account for just one type of Ford's alternative fuel technology research and development portfolio. Ford has outlined a near, mid and long term strategy to implement technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 from the widespread application of EcoBoost engine technology across the line up in the near term, to the introduction of plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the longer term.

About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 229,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company's core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.


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