Big Three Urged to Match Toyota, Other Overseas Fuel Cell Efforts

The Big Three automakers should take a page from Japan’s biggest car maker and step-up development of zero-pollution fuel cell vehicles, says Fuel Cells 2000.

In an October 7 (1996) letter to the chairmen of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, Fuel Cells 2000 Executive Director Robert R. Rose noted that Toyota Motor Corp. plans to unveil a new electric vehicle powered by a fuel cell on October 13.

Rose observed the Toyota vehicle, based on the company’s RAV4L V recreational vehicle, will have an energy efficiency of more than 60 percent, two to three times that of gasoline engines. It also will include a Toyota-made fuel cell that will operate with a solid “hydride” fuel storage technology.

“These developments appear to embody significant and exciting advances in zero-emission vehicle technology,” said Rose in his letter. But he added the Toyota announcement “raises substantial concerns about the state of the U.S. fuel cell program.”

Although the United States “pioneered the development of fuel cells,” Rose remarked, “there can be no question the U.S. has lost the lead in fuel cell vehicles.” He added that efforts by American auto makers are “continuing to plod along with paper studies and bench testing.”

Rose noted President Clinton’s observation in the Oct. 6 presidential debate that the United States had regained world leadership in automobile sales.

“It would be a tragedy if the United States once again fell behind its world competitors and lost market share because of inattention to technological development,” Rose said. “Make no mistake about it: The car crossing that bridge to the future may well be powered by a fuel cell.”

Rose observed that the Toyota news follows recent fuel cell advances by other overseas manufacturers, including Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

Germany’s Daimler-Benz unveiled a fuel cell-powered car in May, saying the technology represented the industry’s most realistic hope for mass-producing a practical, pollution-free automobile. Volkswagen and Volvo recently have initiated efforts to develop fuel cell vehicles.

A fuel cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into electric power. The only by-product is water.

Rose urged the American car makers to “reassess and revitalize your current programs in light of the competition from offshore.”

For more information, contact Bob Rose or Bernie Ksiazek, Fuel Cells 2000, 1625 K Street, NW, Suite 790, Washington, DC 20006, U.S.A. Phone: +1.202.785.9620. Fax: +1.202.785.9629.

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