WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. will place its first fuel cell-powered cars into commercial operation early next year.
Five hydrogen-powered Focuses will be used by fleet operators in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, for up to three years, the company says. Fleet users haven't been chosen for the project, which a Ford spokesman says will cost about $3.5 million.
Ford and its partners in the effort say the goals are to test the evolving technology, educate the public about fuel cells and find out how drivers and fleet operators react to fuel cell power and hydrogen refueling. Other organizers are Natural Resources Canada, a government agency, and Fuel Cells Canada, an industry association.
Vancouver is home to Ballard Power Systems Inc., which produces Ford's fuel cell stacks. Ford owns 19.1 percent of Ballard.
Ford joins a growing list of companies that are subjecting limited numbers of fuel cell-powered vehicles to real-world operating conditions in North America. While the programs are small, they could be crucial steps toward determining whether hydrogen fuel cells are the automotive powerplants of the not-too-distant future, as many in the industry hope.
Fuel cells combine hydrogen from a fuel source with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, with only water vapor as a byproduct. So, if hydrogen can be obtained without creating pollution, fuel cells largely would take motor vehicles out of the environmental equation, industry executives and engineers say.
Ford's official announcement of its Vancouver program was scheduled to be made Sunday, June 8.
Company CEO Bill Ford hinted at it when he appeared Wednesday, June 4, at a Ford centennial celebration at Mount Vernon estate.
He recited what he says are the company's big environmental achievements and undertakings - in part to counter an advertising campaign against Ford by environmental group Sierra Club, timed to coincide with the centennial.
Ford also told about 200 company employees, retirees and dealers from the mid-Atlantic region that despite difficult economic conditions in all major global markets, the company's five-year revitalization plan is on track.
Ford later visited members of Congress and at least one Bush administration official, whom company officials declined to identify.