DETROIT — Daimler is hedging its bets by keeping hydrogen fuel cell technology in development, even as the German giant and most of the rest of the industry have shifted focus to electric vehicles powered by lithium ion batteries.
Daimler introduced the preproduction Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell crossover last year at the Frankfurt auto show. It combines hydrogen fuel cell and battery technologies in the form of a plug-in hybrid getting most of its range from the fuel cell side.
But why pour money into fuel cells when the automaker has said it expects battery electrics to account for up to 25 percent of global sales by 2025?
"We will scale, in terms of going into tens and hundreds of thousands of production, the battery-electric vehicles first," Ola Kaellenius, Daimler board member in charge of r&d, said at the Detroit auto show. "But we will keep the fuel cell in development, so we have this technological option should there be a shift in the market in this direction."
The prospect for the F-Cell in the U.S. is murky. In September, Mercedes said it planned to sell it here beginning in 2019. But a company spokesman last week said there is no timeline for the U.S.
Kaellenius termed fuel cells an "interesting technology for the future," especially for larger vehicles because they have better energy density than battery-electric vehicles.
"It's conceivable that the next generation of fuel cells could go into a bus instead," Kaellenius said. "In the winter, heating the bus requires a lot of energy, and a combination between an electric drive and a fuel cell could be a better option."