UK fleets could be running hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars within five years as one of the first countries in the world to put the technology to the test, a senior executive at Ford has claimed.
The manufacturer is looking for corporate partners and local authorities to run fleets of zero-emission fuel cell vehicles for trials that could start running as early as 2008.
While demonstrating the latest version of the Focus Hybrid Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) at its Dunton Technical Centre in Essex, Philip D Chizek, manager, marketing and sales research and advanced engineering at Ford, said his telephone was 'constantly ringing' as firms contacted him to find out more about the technology.
By next year, Ford will have test fleets operating in the USA, Canada and Europe – mostly at universities and government agencies – running small numbers of the cars with bunkered hydrogen fuel.
The test programme is set to run for two to three years, after which the firm will be looking for larger fleets to take up fuel cell technology.
And Chizek claimed UK fleets would be among the first in the world to run the cars. He said: 'We are looking at the UK to find partners to run these cars. We are going to look at fleet applications and see where the car fits. Fleets will definitely be a great early enabler.'
But Ford admits there are a number of major obstacles to overcome before the revolutionary technology is in everyday use. The current Ford Focus FCV has a range of 200 miles and a 100bhp engine, but cannot run in temperatures lower than -5ºC.
Refuelling infrastructure, reliability, servicing and cost also have to be addressed, and instead of footing the multi-billion dollar development bill all on its own, Ford is looking for partners and subsidies.
Any fleet running pioneer programmes for hydrogen-powered cars would not get the cars for free, although Government incentives, subsidies from Ford and from fuel companies would help lighten the burden.
But Chizek is confident there are plenty of companies that will sign up. He said: 'Companies that have aspirations of hitting strict environmental targets will be keen early adopters of this technology and we have a number of companies that are already very interested.
'Early markets will have to be encouraged by governments, and the UK, German and Canadian governments are at the forefront of this.'
The British Government, which has some of the stiffest carbon dioxide-reduction targets in the world, needs breakthrough technology such as fuel cell cars that emit only water as a by-product. However, the fuel cell cars are a long way from being production-ready, and retail sales would not be expected before 2012.
General Motors confirmed it would be following the same strategy, and introduce fuel cell cars into fleets first (Fleet NewsNet, December 12, 2002), possibly by the end of the decade.