GM’s advice: Get in early

Although automakers are working on fuel cell projects with companies from outside the normal supply chain, they continue to lean on traditional industry suppliers.

Traditional auto suppliers make up about half of General Motors’ fuel cell developmental partners. They work with GM to develop parts such as heat exchangers, sensors and gaskets.

“You (suppliers) kind of have to go down the path with us,” says Byron McCormick, GM’s co-director of fuel cell research. “You’re going to be tying up some valuable resources and valuable money before it’s going to be clear to us where and how you’re going to be creating your business around fuel cells.”

McCormick questions the likelihood of success for latecomers that do not get involved with GM early, sitting on the sidelines as their competitors develop momentum. He says auto suppliers will have an advantage over nonautomotive competitors if they get involved early.

“If the suppliers sit back and say, ‘I think I’ll just kind of wait until GM comes and tells me what part they need and gives me all the specifications,’ I think they’re at risk,” McCormick says. “If, on the other hand, they want to participate during developmental phases and intelligently, it’s going to be a hard community to beat.”

DaimlerChrysler is turning toward its electric-vehicle suppliers to help develop fuel cell vehicles. Those suppliers include Siemens, Delphi and Visteon. The ultimate goal is to have at least two potential suppliers for each part, says Christian Mohrdieck, a senior manager

of fuel cell research for DaimlerChrysler in Rochester Hills, Mich.

The process of working together on fuel cell vehicles is the same as selecting suppliers for internal combustion systems, he says. “But they have to be open for technologies which are new, problems which are new, because this is essentially a chemical device, not so much an automotive or mechanical or thermal device.”

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