The Brownstown plant will ship plug-and-play fuel cell systems ready for installation. The system includes the stack and all the related cooling, fluid, gas and electrical components, assembled into a module. It does not include the battery, electric motor or hydrogen tank. The automakers are expected to develop those components independently.
“They’re not a science project anymore,” GM Executive Vice President Mark Reuss said of hydrogen fuel cells in prepared remarks. “Experts at both companies worked together as one team in different time zones and locations to get us to where we are.”
GM and Honda agreed to manufacture the stacks in the U.S. because that country is expected to be one of the biggest markets for fuel cell vehicles amid tightening emissions regulations, Honda officials said at a separate briefing in Japan.
“We also wanted this new fuel cell system to be built in the United States,” Toshiaki Mikoshiba, president of Honda North America Inc., said separately in prepared remarks.
“At this stage in the advancement of the technology, it is more efficient to have one operation building the fuel cell system for unique vehicles to be offered by each company.”
Honda began selling its Clarity fuel cell vehicle in the U.S. in December, following the car’s launch in Japan last spring. The Clarity’s fuel cell stack is essentially handmade in limited volume at a Honda workshop in Tochigi, north of Tokyo. Honda said it will phase out production of that stack in Tochigi after the next-generation fuel cell vehicle arrives.
Officials from GM and Honda declined to say whether the Michigan-made stacks will be on a fully automated line or largely made by hand in small batches. Automated production is key to reigning in costs.
The companies also said it was too soon to comment on expected production volumes.
Separately on Monday, the state of Michigan approved a $2 million economic development grant for the project. The total investment is expected to be $49 million and create up to 70 jobs in Michigan in 2020, according to state documents approving the grant.
"The project will include renovation within an existing facility, including installation of machinery and equipment for assembly of advanced automotive technology," the state documents said.