It will be the first time that any operation other than the manufacturer has run hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars on roads for any length of time. The vehicles will go into service for three years, backed by a network of hydrogen fuelling stations set up by the Canadian Transportation Fuel Cell Alliance initiative.
Five vehicles will be involved in the Vancouver test programme. Ford and Fuel Cells Canada will select which fleets will run and evaluate the Focus FCV, with fleets that operate locally and remain close to refuelling and service facilities, such as delivery services, likely to be the chosen candidates.
Mike Schwarz, director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies, the group at Ford Motor Company responsible for research and development of fuel cell products said: 'Testing fuel cell vehicles in everyday conditions and applications is a critical step in moving the industry toward commercialisation. Projects like this will provide the information we need to engineer improved performance, reliability and durability of fuel cell vehicles and prepare the market for widespread sales.'
The Ford Focus FCV produces zero emissions at the exhaust, using a fuel cell engine that converts chemical energy into electrical energy using hydrogen and oxygen. The electrical energy powers the vehicle's electric-drive motor, producing only water and heat as by-products. Ford claims fuel-cell technology could provide twice the fuel economy of petrol and diesel engines.
Ford has promised that further fleets will be given the opportunity to test and evaluate the Focus FCV before its launch around the world, and a number of car manufacturers involved in the development of fuel cell technology have stated that their first stop for real-world testing will be fleets.
Speaking to Fleet News in December 2002, Greg Ruselowski, General Motors' director of finance, planning and infrastructure, fuel cell activities, said when the company launches a hydrogen-powered car, fleets will also be its first port of call.
Ruselowski said: 'Fleet is where we want to start. We have already been talking to about 100 fleet customers about what they need.
'The first fuel cell cars will need bunkered hydrogen, but we want to look at fleets using retail petrol stations, because they can use bunkering to control costs.' GM already has 90bhp fuel cell Zafira prototypes running, offering a range of 250 miles.