TOKYO - Mazda Motor Corp., in an alliance that includes DaimlerChrysler Japan, has begun road tests of a fuel cell-powered Premacy compact minivan in Japan.
The tests represent another step forward for an alliance of Ford Motor Co., Mazda, DaimlerChrysler AG and Canada's Ballard Power Systems in fuel cell research. However, it also implies that Mazda has ended research on its own fuel cell.
The Premacy FC-EV uses a methanol reformer fuel cell system, with fuel cell stacks and a reformer developed by Ballard. Mazda and its partners began testing the car Thursday, Feb. 15.
Nippon Mitsubishi Oil Co. also is a partner in the Japan tests, with the project subsidized by the Petroleum Energy Center; the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy; and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, known formerly as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, or MITI.
Mazda began its fuel cell research in 1991. In early 1992, it put together its first fuel cell vehicle using a Ballard system.
In November 1997, Mazda developed its own hydrogen-based fuel cell and installed it in a Demio compact wagon. In April 1998, however, Mazda switched gears, joining the Ford-DaimlerChrysler-Ballard fuel cell alliance.
In 1996, Ford had increased its stake in Mazda from 25 percent to a controlling 33.4 percent.
The new Premacy fuel cell is 20 percent smaller than the unit used in the 1997 Demio. As a result, it can be mounted under the floor, allowing space for five-passenger seating. The gasoline-powered Premacy comes in either five- or seven-seat configurations.
Some of Mazda's own research is being used. The Premacy FC-EV uses a tank that was first developed for the Demio.