Why Daimler will wait until '17 to debut fuel cell vehicle

"Three or four years ago, we had to justify why we were sticking with hydrogen technology at Daimler," said Herbert Kohler, Daimler's head of corporate research. "Now the situation is reversed. If you are not involved, you have to ask yourselves some uncomfortable questions."
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STUTTGART -- Daimler's first series-production hydrogen vehicle could have been ready about now. But the company is putting off the vehicle's debut until 2017.

Herbert Kohler, 57, head of corporate research, explained why to Staff Reporter Michael Knauer of Automobilwoche, a German sibling publication of Automotive News.

Q: Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are a hot topic again. Did you ever doubt that?

A: Three or four years ago, we had to justify why we were sticking with hydrogen technology at Daimler. Now the situation is reversed. If you are not involved, you have to ask yourselves some uncomfortable questions. We were always sure that hydrogen is a realistic option for emission-free driving. In an analysis of its potential in 2005, we concluded that an acceptable cost level could be achieved in 2012. Now it will take until 2017, but there are good reasons for this.

What are the reasons?

We could have introduced a production-ready fuel cell vehicle earlier. It was previously our intention to launch one in 2014-2015. Then last year, we entered our collaboration with Nissan and Ford to jointly develop a fuel cell system while reducing costs due to higher volumes. All three partners would use the same components as much as possible. That is why we are working toward the objective of 2017.

Toyota has confirmed plans for a hydrogen vehicle starting in 2015. Does Daimler need to worry about Toyota getting a head start the way it did with hybrid powertrains?

No. We have been working on fuel cell vehicles for 20 years. Between 2010 and 2012, we had 250 fuel cell vehicles in operation.

In Japan, Toyota wants to sell its fuel cell vehicle for the equivalent of about $68,000. What will the price range be for the first Daimler fuel cell vehicle?

Our goal is for the price of a fuel cell vehicle to be oriented to the price of the hybrid version of a comparable model.

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