Honda (and GM) to fuel cell electric car fans: never give up, never surrender (image courtesy of Honda).

Honda Doubles Down On Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Car Commitment

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While the debate between batteries and fuel cells rages on, some automakers have decided to settle the issue by producing an electric car that sports both a battery pack and a fuel cell stack. Honda belongs to that set, and it plans on adding green hydrogen punch to the picture, too. Does that even make sense? Well it might, and GM could be along for the ride, too.

Battery Packs & Fuel Cell Stacks For An Electric Car

Fuel cell electric cars have been achingly slow to catch on in the US, but activity in the area has begun to tick up overseas. Fuel cells have also begun to attract attention from truck makers including Nikola, which is apparently back on track to launch fuel cell trucks in the US.

That’s still quite a leap to fuel cell electric cars, but the crossover SUV area comes close, depending on how you define a car, and car makers are beginning to dip into the SUV field.

Adding a twist to the activity is the idea pairing batteries and fuel cells in a single vehicle. Fuel cell vehicles already use batteries for some functions, so the idea is to increase the battery size to add range.

That mashup has come across the CleanTechnica radar before, most recently when the UK startup Tevva decided to modify its plan for incorporating a diesel engine as a range extender on its hybrid electric trucks, much as the Chevy Volt deployed a battery that enabled drivers to cruise on more than 50 miles of electricity before their gas engine kicked in.

The Volt eventually gave way to the all-battery Bolt, and Tevva leveled up to to introduce an all-battery truck last month. Tevva also plans to launch a 7.5 tonne battery-powered truck with a hydrogen fuel cell range extender later this year.

For the record, our friends over at Motor Trend note that Stellantis has also introduced a van that incorporates batteries.

GM & Honda Have A Can’t-Miss Plan For Fuel Cell Electric Cars

As for the Chevrolet brand’s parent company, General Motors, that’s where things get interesting.

Back in 2012, GM partnered with the US Army to demonstrate a fleet of 16 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which were modified versions of the Chevy Equinox crossover SUV. If you think “car” when you spot an SUV, then GM put a fleet of 16 fuel cell cars on the road.

The next year, GM and Honda announced a fuel cell collaboration. Honda also signed on to an Obama-era program to build a national hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and in 2017 the two companies announced their intention to build a fuel cell factory in Ohio.

In 2018, GM reaffirmed its commitment to include fuel cell vehicles in its lineup by 2020, but the year came and went with no fuel cell electric car in sight. However, GM was still moving forward behind the scenes, including a new venture in the field of fuel cell aircraft.

Last fall GM also came roaring back into the fuel cell fold with a focus on green hydrogen for its fuel cells. Coincidentally or not, last fall Honda reaffirmed its plans to produce an all-electric version of its popular CR-V crossover SUV with a battery pack and a fuel cell range extender (here is additional coverage).

Honda Still Dreams Of Fuel Cell Electric Cars

That was certainly not a coincidence. Though Honda snared much of the media spotlight with its CR-V announcement, last week the company issued a press release that underscored its collaboration with GM.

“Since 2013, Honda has been working with GM on the joint development of the next-generation fuel cell system,” Honda explained, confirming that it plans to launch a new fuel cell electric car in 2024, “equipped with the next-generation fuel cell system jointly developed with GM.”

“This next-generation fuel cell system, which leverages the knowledge, know-how and economies of scale of both companies, will reduce the cost to one-third compared to the cost of the fuel cell system in the 2019 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell,” Honda stated.

If you caught that thing about the Clarity, that’s significant because the Clarity was an electric sedan, not an SUV. Honda introduced the car in 2017, but discontinued it within just a few years, including an all-battery version as well as fuel cell and hybrid versions.

Clearly the end of Clarity did not mean giving up the fuel cell dream. The collaboration with GM paid off on the cost-cutting side, bringing fuel cell electric cars closer to parity with battery-electric and gas-powered cars. Honda listed innovative materials for electrodes, an enhanced cell sealing structure, streamlined supporting equipment, and productivity improvements among the elements leading to reduced costs.

Does GM Have A Fuel Cell Electric Car Up Its Sleeve?

Honda also stated that it has further cost-cutting strategies in hand. The company foresees another 50% reduction in costs in the coming years, on top of the 33% reduction achieved with GM.

In an interesting twist, Honda seemed to indicate that its fuel cell collaboration with GM is coming to a close, at least in its present form. “Honda has begun fundamental research on future fuel cell technologies with targets to halve the cost and double the durability compared to the fuel cell system co-developed with GM,” the company stated. That language suggests Honda is branching off to develop its own technology, if not dropping the relationship entirely.

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread. Meanwhile, GM may have something up its sleeve as well. In 2016 the company delivered a “mission-ready” fuel cell version of its Colorado pickup truck to the US Army for testing.

In a 2018 recap of the program, the Army noted that it has “leveraged more than $3 billion in GM research and development spent on fuel cell technologies over the last several decades.” That collaboration includes the 2006 “Project Driveway” test of 100 fuel cell electric cars in the form of Chevy’s Equinox.

Don’t be surprised if you see a fuel cell version of the Equinox on the horizon, though a consumer-ready fuel cell edition of the Colorado pickup truck is another possibility.

GM is also working with the Defense Innovation Unit to analyze its advanced Ultium batteries for military use, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Photo: Green hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles courtesy of Honda (cropped).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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