German delivery company Hermes Versand Service is helping DaimlerChrysler run a ground-breaking two-year field test on fuel cell vehicles - in a move that could hasten the adoption of fuel-cell vehicles by European fleets.
The joint initiative marks the first occasion that the manufacturer has run a field test with a fleet customer. DaimlerChrysler tested its previous prototype fuel cell vehicles internally.
The project will assess how a specially-modified Mercedes-Benz Sprinter commercial vehicle and its alternative drive system can cope with everyday operating conditions.
Hermes Versand Service makes 165 million deliveries every year. It will initially test the Sprinter in the Stuttgart area before transferring to Hamburg.
Dr Rolf Bartke, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans at DaimlerChrysler, said: 'Fuel cell technology provides us with a highly promising, environmentally compatible drive concept for the future.
'That's why DaimlerChrysler is not only securing know-how in this field but is also collaborating with selected customers in order to accelerate the development of practical applications.'
Bartke added: 'As an environmentally-friendly and low-noise vehicle, this Mercedes-Benz Sprinter represents the future for innovative delivery companies of the 21st century.
'With such projects, DaimlerChrysler is offering its customers the opportunity to play a pioneering role and gather early experience with an innovative technology.'
Commenting on the two-year project, Dr Wolfgang Fürwentsches, chief executive officer of Hermes Versand Service, said: 'We're a company with a fleet of 3,000 vehicles and a major customer of DaimlerChrysler. As such, we felt we wanted to help accelerate the development of environmentally friendly technologies.
'Indeed, as a major delivery company, we fully recognise our responsibility towards the environment.
'As a member of the Hamburg Hydrogen Association, we have already been able to gather valuable information in the field of alternative drive technologies. The fuel cell Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a further step in the right direction,' he added.
The new prototype Sprinter has front-wheel drive and uses gaseous hydrogen as fuel. DaimlerChrysler says that running fleets of vans from central depots offers ideal operating conditions for this type of fuel cell vehicle.
Since becoming involved in fuel cell technology development seven years ago, DaimlerChrysler has produced a total of 16 prototype vehicles.
Fuel cell vehicles produce no harmful emissions as the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen only generates steam as an exhaust gas.
'Quiet and clean, fuel cell vehicles offer big advantages, particularly in an urban environment,' DaimlerChrysler said. 'For delivery companies or transport operators with a fleet of buses or taxis, hydrogen represents a feasible fuel option, as the vehicles can be regularly refuelled at the company's central depot.' (September 2001)