The cost of developing fuel cell vehicles is high partly because of platinum that is used in the fuel-cell stacks and the complexity of onboard storage of gaseous hydrogen, which requires expensive, carbon fiber storage tanks.
GM and Honda executives say they'll be able to commercialize fuel cell vehicles faster and at less cost than if they worked separately.
"As the two established leaders in advanced fuel cell technology, when we combine our talents and expertise, we believe that together we can and will accomplish more than anyone else can," GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said in prepared remarks for a speech to announce the agreement in New York today.
The companies said that their engineers will work side-by-side to create a common system for use by both automakers. They will share technology already developed and slated for commercial use, including the next generation of Honda's FCX Clarity, which it plans to launch in Japan and the United States in 2015.
GM and Honda were among the first automakers to develop and produce fuel-cell vehicles. Since 2002, Honda has leased 85 fuel cell vehicles, dubbed FCX, and has accumulated promising data from their real-world use, the company said.
In 2007, GM launched a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered Chevy Equinox crossovers for consumers to test in the Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., areas. The fleet has racked up nearly 3 million miles of real-world use for evaluation by GM engineers.
Despite the high cost of refueling stations -- $1 million to $2 million -- automakers are pursuing the technology as part of a broad product approach to meeting stiffer CO2 regulations. Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-powered vehicles are also part of the approach.
Fuel economy standards are set to get tougher over the next 12 years.
In the United States, for example, automakers must achieve a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 across their lineup, a technical measure which translates to 36 mpg or higher in actual driving.
"When you look ahead to 2025 when you have 54 mile-per-gallon fuel economy standards, something needs to happen, and it's not going to be (battery) electric vehicles," said Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Mich.