At the time of the launch, Nick Abson, chief executive, said the firm would be concentrating on taxis and commercial fleets and expected to have 100 on the road within 18 months. However, changes in partners behind the taxi development have put the brakes on the launch of the ground-breaking fleet, with just one test model still on the road, which was displayed outside the conference.
Abson insisted that a production line of fuel-cell taxis was still just a year away - it is to be produced with Metrocab - and added that work had now started on a fuel cell Transit van. Development costs for the £1 million fuel cell unit for the taxi have been partly met by a £400,000 Government grant and Abson said he was certain of at least two new taxi models being on the road for testing next year. The same unit would be redeveloped at less cost to be used in the van project, he said.
The delays highlight the difficulties which face alternative fuel companies and manufacturers in bringing new technologies to the market when they do not have the massive financial muscle of vehicle manufacturers such as Ford, which is working with other organisations to cover the $1 billion cost of developing a fuel cell vehicle for a target launch in 2004.
Abson estimates that the fuel cell taxi and van will have a 20-50% price premium over conventional diesel models, but estimates running costs will be 30-50% less. He said: 'We expect production models of our vehicles to be available in 2001/02, but we are seeing if we can shorten the timescale for that schedule.'