Honda and GM kickstart joint fuel cell production

Technical partners Honda and General Motors (GM) have initiated mass production of hydrogen fuel cell systems at their shared facility in Brownstown, Michigan. It has been a long time coming, as the two auto giants announced their collaboration in fuel cell technology ten years ago.

The $85 million facility, part of the Fuel Cell System Manufacturing (FCSM) joint venture equally owned by GM and Honda, has commenced the production of fuel cells for various applications, ranging from vehicles to off-grid charging stations. Tetsuo Suzuki, Vice-President of FCSM, highlighted the collaboration’s success: “We integrated the strengths of Honda and GM to create the most capable production system at this joint venture.”

Reducing cost

The production launch in Brownstown is seen as a pivotal moment in hydrogen fuel cell commercialization. Efforts have been made to enhance the fuel cells’ durability and reduce costs, for which GM and Honda have focused on economies of scale, advanced cell design, and simplified equipment. Without giving specific details, both companies also mention minimizing the use of costly precious metals.

The Brownstown facility employs 80 people and has highly automated lines for fuel cell production. This automation extends to the assembly of membrane electrodes and fuel cell stacks. Honda’s initiative is part of its broader hydrogen strategy, which includes cooperation with GM.

The American automaker is also a devoted advocate of hydrogen and has been promoting its fuel cell systems under the Hydrotec label, exploring applications in heavy commercial vehicles, among others.

Honda only sold 1,900 units of its previous fuel cell car, the Clarity /Honda

Hybrid CR-V on hydrogen

Though the production start is a pat on the back for hydrogen mobility, none of the partners believes that hydrogen passenger vehicles are on the verge of a breakthrough. Honda acknowledges that battery EVs are the current focus and anticipates a shift toward FCEVs, especially by 2040, when the aim is for all its car sales to be either battery-electric or fuel cells.

In the short to medium run, Honda projects sales of its nascent hydrogen SUV to reach 2,000 units a year by 2025 before reaching 60,000 by 2030 and “a few hundred thousand” in the latter half of that decade.

Under the collaboration with General Motors, Honda is introducing a CR-V hybrid SUV this year, which gives its owner the choice between fuel-cell or battery propulsion. The new system is expected to slash cost by a third compared to the Clarity Fuel Cell version. The Clarity on hydrogen was hardly a success, with only 1,900 units sold globally. Its lukewarm adoption was attributed to inadequate infrastructure and high costs.

Honda admits that commercial vehicles are a more immediate application for hydrogen fuel technology. The company has started using fuel cells in commercial vehicles in China and other countries.

CEO Toshihiro Mibe said that Honda’s focus on hydrogen will include larger vehicles and non-mobility applications. The company will replace diesel with fuel cells. This initiative is already underway with trials in commercial trucks in China and a heavy-duty fuel-cell truck developed with Isuzu.

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