Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche is pretty confident about the imminence of self-driving cars. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles? Not so much. He didn't even get into the possibility of self-driving fuel-cell vehicles, but we're okay taking future technologies one at a time.

Zetsche, in an interview from the Detroit Auto Show last week, said the automotive industry is about a decade away from avoiding disappointing experiences with production fuel-cell vehicles, In Auto News says. Zetsche was quick to note that the Mercedes-Benz parent entered into a fuel-cell partnership with Ford and Nissan early last year in an effort to split costs and speed things along, with the expectation that the group would develop something together by 2017, but even that won't be able to smooth things out fully. Toyota and Hyundai have said they'd have their own production vehicles on the road sooner than that.

Multi-corporation-partnerships notwithstanding, Zetsche bemoaned the high costs, lack of vehicle volume and minimal refueling infrastructure as the proverbial roadblocks to more rapid development and adoption of fuel-cell vehicles. As it is, the US has just 10 publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations, eight of which are in Southern California, according to the US Department of Energy.

As for autonomous automobiles, Zetsche was more upbeat. Daimler already has what it calls the "Distronic" cruise control system that includes an automatic braking feature and has successfully driven a car 60 miles with "with relatively modest adjustments to the existing onboard technology."


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  • 95 Comments
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      So when, where and for how much is Mercedes planning to sell the Tesla Powered 35kWh E-Cell?
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        The Toyota/Tesla Rav4 EV has been plagued with problems, and will not meet its production goals. "The RAV4 EV has had a number of technical problems, some of which are still unresolved. My particular car has had the motor assembly replaced, the heater, the DC to DC computer and the battery pack was dropped to replace the charge port that failed. Over 30 days in the shop in 9 months of ownership. My car is not isolated in these issues. Ongoing problems remain; for instance, the car fails to charge on the 31st day of every month on a timer, as it just did on July 31, 2013, even after getting the updated firmware that allegedly fixed charge timer issues, and my repeated complaints to the dealer about these issues. But, all this doesn’t yet address the singular biggest issue with the current RAV4 EV; the car doesn’t sell well. In June 2013, only 44 were sold. Toyota made several aggressive changes to pricing and the sales only went up to about 100 for the month ending July 2013. They still have to sell 2000 more cars." http://insideevs.com/will-toyota-cancel-the-rav4-ev/ The Toyota/Tesla project has been very disappointing.
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Not surprising since Toyota has never intended the Rav4EV to be anything but a limited edition compliance vehicle.
        JakeY
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        No sales volume information, but it says: "available starting summer 2014 at authorized Mercedes-Benz dealers in select states — CA, CT, MD, OR, NJ, NY, RI and VT" http://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/future/model/model-B_Class_Electric_Drive
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd be interested to actually experience filling up a FCV as I am told that bringing up the tank to 10,000PSI can be pretty loud. Filling up an Electric Car is perfectly quiet so I wonder how much that would be a detractor. Not to mention the fact that there is a tank in the car under 650 atmospheres of pressure. Is there anything in this world that consumers own under that kind of pressure?
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        It's not loud. Barely any noise at all. All the compression equipment is in a separate area, and noise abatement is easily accomplished. Skip to 5:21 for a 350 Bar fill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqOFscGMOJE
      Levine Levine
      • 1 Year Ago
      Toyota is bullish on fuel cell; Mercedes not so much. Tesla says fuel cell won't be competitive or feasible any time soon -- essentially, a pipe dream. Each is expedient and has its agenda. It will be interesting to read their propaganda in the coming years.
      m_2012
      • 1 Year Ago
      Daimler boss says fuel cell vehicles will be disappointing for at least 20 years. There, fixed.
      Val
      • 1 Year Ago
      They are waiting for proof? But LTAW has provided proof that HFCVs are proven to be viable, even today. He can even buy a hydrogen generator that goes into the basement of a building, and make hydrogen AND electricity, and sell the excess electricity back to the grid, so that the hydrogen is practically free (or was that the other hydrogen fanboy on autoblog?). And toyota can start cranking out fuel cells stacks any day now, whenever they decide the moment is right, and they have proven with the prius they can make anything work, right? So this hesitancy from the industry is quite bizzare, to say the least.
      • 1 Year Ago
      In reality, coins have two sides, looks like Obama didn't consult with Daimler as his administration has just announced: “Energy Department Invests Over $7 Million to Commercialize Cost-Effective Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies” http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-invests-over-7-million-commercialize-cost-effective-hydrogen-and-fuel Or “Obama Administration Wants to Speed Up Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles” Ca. 74,200 google results from 2014 January. Excerpts, DoE: “WASHINGTON -- As part of the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above energy strategy, the Energy Department today announced more than $7 million for projects that will help bring cost-effective, advanced hydrogen and fuel cell technologies online faster. This investment… will increase U.S. leadership in fuel cell-powered vehicles and backup power systems, and give businesses more affordable, cleaner transportation and power options…” Since: fuel cells don’t store energy, they generate it not only for cars, but virtually anything from lawnmowers to spaceships (even w/out any grid or time to charge). “…the Energy Department is helping to build a strong 21st century transportation sector that cuts harmful pollution, reduces costs for U.S. businesses and leads to a more sustainable energy future… hydrogen and fuel cell technologies will help ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy innovation. [DoE + a list]… have already achieved significant advances in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies – reducing costs and improving performance. These research and development efforts have helped reduce automotive fuel cell costs by more than 50 percent since 2006 and by more than 30 percent since 2008. At the same time, fuel cell durability has doubled and the amount of expensive platinum needed in fuel cells has fallen by 80 percent since 2005. Building on this progress, the projects awarded today will help further reduce the cost of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, expand fueling infrastructure and build a strong domestic supply chain in the United States. This investment also supports the Energy Department’s broader efforts to continue U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation.” Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies have even become a strategic plan for U.S. Finally, not to be judged as biased, here’s two perfectly contradictory article from The Royal Society of Chemistry, “the world's leading chemistry community.” 1. “Hydrogen's false economy” Practically it says hydrogen is BS. 2. “Clearing the air about the hydrogen economy” Quote: “…the US Department of Energy (DOE) had been led to believe that battery technology was on the verge of offering the vehicle ranges and recharging times needed for mass market sales. When this proved to be wrong, funding was returned to the DOE HFC program... “Hydrogen's false economy” is forming opinion based on outdated news, selective facts and little understanding of the wider energy system.” Google them and pick your choice.
        • 1 Year Ago
        And just to summarize a little bit clearer the second quoted article for the sake of easier understanding (which comes from the renowned Royal Society of Chemistry): So “Clearing the air about the hydrogen economy” which is a direct criticism of the “Hydrogen's false economy” article from the very same website. Such as: It clearly states: the usual notion that hydrogen as an energy vector is „false„ illustrates the dangers of opinion based on limited and selective information sources. There is relatively little public knowledge of what is being done globally with hydrogen and fuel cell (HFC) technologies – leading to an abundance of misinformation and those opining on it. It also makes very clear, that the US Department of Energy (DOE) had been led to believe that battery technology was on the verge of offering the vehicle ranges and recharging times needed for mass market sales had been proved to be wrong, therefore, funding was returned to the DOE HFC program, but somewhat quietly (not to be politically embarrassing). It says the well-known fact that existing battery-electric vehicles are still far from being a direct replacement for conventional vehicles, so betting on when they will be is a gamble (with the US DOE having already lost a large stake). It states that although hydrogen infrastructure costs are somewhat high, but extensive use of BEVs would require costly grid upgrades – particularly in low-grid strength residential areas. In contrast, one large HFC facility is capable of servicing a great many vehicles – the same cost-effective fuelling model we employ today. And surprisingly most estimates of infrastructure costs suggest that HFC will be around £800 less per vehicle than for BEVs, even in early roll-out. Also, H2 transport may seem a fantasy, yet London has been running H2 buses for several years and has recently acquired more. Next year, Aberdeen will see Europe’s largest single deployment of green-H2 buses and work is underway in Scotland to develop the world’s first H2-propelled ferry. By 2015 the German state is on track to have 50 H2 filling stations, Japan 100 and the US even more. The EU has recently announced that the follow-on to its first HFC program will be funded at €1.5 billion and that’s rather a lot of concrete and steel. Finally the conclusion, which is very straightforward: It’s a curious thought that multi-billion dollar investment from the likes of Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, Shell, Total, BOC, the EU, state governments and others is ill-considered, therefore, the real ‘false economy’ is rather forming opinion based on outdated news, selective facts and little understanding of the wider energy system. Actually I can agree with this statement.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          Hydrogen buses? I don't think many people oppose or deny that hydrogen buses are a great way forward. The debate is squarely about the light duty passenger markets.
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joe, If you read my reply below to Neros you can realize that there's more to it. Or click the link on the DoE announcement page, named "Find additional information on the Energy Department’s broader efforts to develop affordable, efficient fuel cell and hydrogen technologies." and check the only photo above the "EERE leads U.S. researchers and other partners in making transportation cleaner and more efficient through solutions that put electric drive vehicles on the road and replace oil with clean domestic fuels" you will find, it's an FCEV SUV (and there aren't any hydrogen buses at all). I know, it's very hard to believe, but they simply switched their focus and energy strategy back to Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies. C'est la guerre.
        Neros
        • 1 Year Ago
        $7million will not commercialize hydrogen technology. These are most likely just renewals of existing projects and grant programs. In fact thats not enough to build more than 2 hydrogen fuel stations. I'd need to see at least two or three more zeros behind that figure to consider this a serious effort to "commercialize" hydrogen tech. What a joke.
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Neros
          Yeah, the $7 million alone wouldn't be too significant, but actually there's a lot more to it: Evworld: "Interview with Breakthrough Technologies Institute Executive Director Robert Rose on the current status of fuel cell technology and the industry after a four year hiatus." http://evworld.com/focus.cfm?cid=152 "...even though public interest in fuel cells waned during the first Obama Administration, Department of Energy funding remained a not insignificant sum of around $100 million annually." This $7 million is just the recent shift in the direction of funds - on top of the $100 million annually - going toward the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies instead of the disappointing outcome of battery electric funds. Thus, part from the still overwhelming public interest in battery tech the DoE switched their focus back to the way more promising Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies. That's the real story between the lines.
      chanonissan
      • 1 Year Ago
      Nissan some years ago demonstrate a serena fuel cell vehicle that runs off water, by converting a 200ml bottle of water to H2O, and emitts water,cannot find that link again, but that vehicle was just too expensive to build. That is why they pursue EVs, which was cheaper, while work on reducing FCV cost.
        chanonissan
        • 1 Year Ago
        @chanonissan
        yea i know the new system is different but the high cost still exist.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      If he really said ~"disappointing for at least 10 years" then that is very troubling. Basically that tells me "It is not cost-effective right now and it might not EVER be cost-effective". The can probably make a high-end niche vehicles such as at the Tesla Model S pricing level. But it is going to be hard to push down the prices. And it has been very hard for EVs as well. EVs are still only barely cost-effective
        Neros
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Spec
        Battery prices are going down faster than predicted. 10 years out its not even a gamble that EVs will be cost effective. I'd say much much sooner.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Neros
          many rational predictions about battery prices turned out to be correct. They did not underestimate batteries, they underestimated the public. They figured that everyone wanted and needed to refuel the exact same way as gasoline.
      gpmp
      • 1 Year Ago
      Seems that fuel cell vehicles have been "about a decade away" for at least a couple of decades.
        Sean
        • 1 Year Ago
        @gpmp
        "Hydrogen cars are only five years away, and they always will be"
      JakeY
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is kind of surprising to me given Daimler seemed fairly upbeat about hydrogen (I put them the "neutral" camp. I guess even they are seeing the reality of things.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JakeY
        Or maybe they're trying to distract you from their $500 million investment in refueling infrastructure and their $50 million, 35,500-square-foot fuel cell assembly plant in British Columbia. Kind of like how VW also plays down fuel cells, while at the same time building a hydrogen generating plant and signing a $80 million agreement with Ballard.
          chanonissan
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          yes they build plants, but that does not mean they will provide hydrogen in 2015 or 2016, it simple indicate they are preparing for the future, which company does not plan to prepare for the future?
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JakeY
        Maybe they just didn't hear enough about government mandates and projections from DaveMart..!
      Dave D
      • 1 Year Ago
      Bill Murray said it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fuWH0dYago
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      We were all disappointed in the Rav4EV. Toyota is focused on their current Prius line... which is fine. But I wonder and fear that their Rav4EV might have gotten a bit more attention if they were not distracted by hydrogen in the first place.
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