Ford Motor Company’s fleet of 30 fuel cell vehicles has exceeded expectations of the company’s hydrogen research engineers by accumulating more than 865,000 real world miles without significant maintenance issues since the fleet’s launch three years ago. The Ford Focus Fuel Cell test vehicles also have earned accolades from the company’s global fleet partners for outstanding durability, reliability and capability.
Encouraged by the program’s success, Ford recently reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to extend its three-year-old hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle program for up to 24 months, until the next generation system is ready for deployment in the 2010 timeframe.
According to Ford’s global fuel cell team, the first generation Focus Fuel Cell vehicles have lasted three times longer and worked much better than originally expected with virtually no degradation in performance. In light of that success, the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), which shares the program’s operating cost with Ford, agreed to extend the program.
Ford researchers agree that much more work needs to be done before fuel cell vehicles can be commercialized. The biggest challenge according to Rob Riley, Ford fleet manager in California, is building a viable H2 infrastructure with fueling stations across the country. Currently, there are 70 hydrogen fueling stations and most of them are not accessible to the public. California is leading the way having recently opened its 24th station.
H2-fueled vehicles account for just one type of Ford’s alternative fuel technology research and development portfolio. Ford has outlined a near, mid and long term strategy to implement technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 from the widespread application of EcoBoost engine technology across the line up in the near term, to the introduction of plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the longer term.