WASHINGTON - The US federal government will give import-brand car companies the opportunity to participate in US taxpayer-funded research on future vehicle technology, especially hydrogen fuel cells.
The White House organized an event at the beginning of the month to boost President George Bush's plan for hydrogen and fuel cell research, called FreedomCar.
The Japanese look set to capitalize on the initiative ahead of the Europeans. At the Washington event, fuel cell vehicles such as Toyota's FCHV Highlander, Honda's FCX and Nissan's Xterra FCV were on display alongside those from the major US carmakers.
"Foreign automakers have and will have an opportunity to participate" in FreedomCar, said US Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham in Detroit.
Jim Press, chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the Department of Energy has invited Toyota to join a dialogue on the subject. "We'd love to be involved," said Press. "We will all benefit from creating an infrastructure that will allow these vehicles to be sold and used on a daily basis."
"It appears to be that they want this to be an international effort of some kind," said Ed Cohen, vice president for government and industry relations at Honda North America. "So, we'll see what it is."
Until now, the principal research has involved only the major US carmakers and their suppliers on the industry side.
Program agreements were revised in 1999 to accommodate overseas ownership of DaimlerChrysler but still required a participant to have major US research facilities.
Fuel cells combine hydrogen from other fuel sources with oxygen to produce electric power, with only water as a byproduct. In January, Bush proposed a FreedomFuel program to develop better production, delivery and storage of hydrogen in the USA.
Bush told nearly 500 people at the Washington event that shifting the nation to hydrogen "would be a fantastic legacy to leave for future generations."