GM to shift fuel cell program from upstate New York to Michigan
DETROIT -- General Motors Co. said it plans to close its hydrogen fuel-cell research operation near Rochester, N.Y., and move it to Michigan.
The move is scheduled to be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2013.
Most of the 220 salaried workers in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., will be offered the chance to move to GM's global powertrain engineering headquarters in suburban Detroit.
The move will enable GM to capitalize on "synergies" with the rest of the powertrain and vehicle organizations, a GM spokeswoman said today.
GM will continue to focus on electric vehicles and fuel cell development, she said.
Fuel cell efforts
Fuel cells convert a fuel, typically hydrogen, into electricity, which can then be used to power cars and trucks. They are a minor player in the industry's efforts to find alternatives to gasoline-fueled engines.
However, some see zero-emission fuel cells one day being a viable alternative if costs decrease and efficiency and durability increase. GM's first hydrogen fuel cell efforts began in 1969, but gained steam in the late 1990s.
Charlie Freese, the executive in charge of GM's fuel cell programs, said he believes fuel cell vehicles could be commercialized by 2015 or 2016 if the infrastructure to support the technology is sufficient, and the technology could be cost competitive by 2022. Some companies are trying to beat that timeline, said Freese, who added GM has not announced any programs.
Freese said the industry also needs to cut costs in the fuel cell, including further reducing the use of high-cost precious metal platinum. And the industry will need to boost the sales of such vehicles after they are introduced to drive down development costs, he said.
"The first generation of these cars won't be profitable," Freese said. "It's going to take two to three generations before that technology cost curve matures to the point that it can be a competitive technology with some of the other alternative power trains."
Work on gasoline- and diesel-powered engines and transmissions is done in Pontiac, so moving the fuel cell program will allow more sharing of knowledge and improved worker efficiency across numerous technology platforms, Freese said.
"The ability to take someone that knows how to do a turbo charger on a diesel engine and apply them to the compressor on a fuel cell, those kinds of things provide a lot of advantages," he said in a telephone interview.
With the lease on the New York facility expiring in the first quarter of next year, GM will be able to reduce structural operating costs, Freese said.
Theresa Clift and Reuters contributed to this report.