Dear Johan: Daimler consciously uncouples from hydrogen

It might not be a total breakup, but it's no longer a major part of its future portfolio.

Mercedes-Benz

A number of automakers are dabbling in hydrogen fuel cell cars, but few have already decided to move on. Daimler joins that club this week... sort of.

Daimler will no longer treat hydrogen fuel cell development as a top priority, Smart2Zero reports, citing Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche's remarks at a recent automotive summit. It won't abandon the technology entirely, but it appears Daimler would prefer to go all-in on battery-electric vehicles, instead of splitting its efforts like it's doing now.

Money plays a big part. As research and development on EV batteries continues, prices are getting lower and capacities are getting higher.

The GLC F-Cell is supposed to go on sale either late this year or early in 2018.

Mercedes-Benz

Right now, Daimler has one hydrogen vehicle of note in its pipeline. The Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell packs a hydrogen fuel cell, with a powertrain more closely aligned with a plug-in hybrid. The fuel cell can charge its 9-kWh battery for a total range of about 310 miles, but if hydrogen isn't available nearby, it sports a charging port for juicing up at an EV charger that supports CHAdeMO plugs.

There are still benefits to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Filling a tank with compressed hydrogen gas takes just a few minutes, not much longer than filling a standard gasoline tank and much shorter than even the fastest EV chargers on the market today. Fuel cells also carry a superior driving range, at least for now.

However, there's one big thing working against hydrogen fuel cell vehicles -- infrastructure. EV infrastructure has been in development for years now, and it's well ahead of hydrogen, which is limited to a single digit's worth of states on the east and west coasts. Adding more will cost millions, if not billions, and automakers are not appearing willing to shoulder that burden.

Hydrogen's benefits won't last much longer, either. A few years ago, 100 miles was not a bad range for an electric car, but now, we're seeing sub-$40,000 EVs with ranges nearing that of conventional gas cars, and more are on the way.

Even charging is speeding up, as companies begin investing in 150-kW and 350-kW chargers that can supply juice quicker than Tesla's Supercharger, which has been top dog for some time. In fact, Daimler is investing in a European charging network that will support said 350-kW charging.

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