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From the Detroit Free Press:

City giving fuel-cell car a test drive

Farmington Hills using DCX vehicle

April 21, 2006

BY JOE GUY COLLIER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

DaimlerChrysler AG showcased Thursday in Farmington Hills what it hopes will be a common sight in the near future: a fuel-cell vehicle used by real people, not test engineers.

DaimlerChrysler and the City of Farmington Hills have formed a partnership as part of a larger fuel-cell project to test the vehicles. Over the next year, a Mercedes-Benz fuel-cell car, known as the F-Cell, will be part of the city fleet for use by employees.

The Farmington Hills car is one of more than 100 DaimlerChrysler fuel-cell vehicles in use worldwide. The automaker deployed its first fuel-cell vehicle in Michigan (and the United States) in 2004 with UPS. Inergy Automotive Systems, Wayne State University and now Farmington Hills have since joined the project.

Fuel cells often are viewed as the wave of the future in the automotive industry. Running off hydrogen instead of gasoline, the F-Cell cars have zero emissions.

By 2012, DaimlerChrysler believes it will be ready to put a fuel-cell vehicle on the market, said Doanh Tran, DaimlerChrysler manager for fuel-cell vehicles and technologies.

"Our intent is very clearly moving toward the hydrogen economy," Tran said Thursday.

Making that vision a reality won't be easy.

Automakers face major hurdles in bringing the vehicles to market. Hydrogen requires larger storage tanks than for gasoline, making it difficult to give a fuel-cell car the same driving range without sacrificing space. The F-Cell can go about 100 miles on a single tank.

The supporting infrastructure also is limited because there are few hydrogen stations for refueling. The City of Farmington Hills was a leading candidate for the DaimlerChrysler F-Cell because it's near a hydrogen station in Southfield. There's another hydrogen station in Ann Arbor, and one is expected soon in downtown Detroit.

Farmington Hills employees will use the vehicle for short trips near the city. Data are automatically uploaded to a DaimlerChrysler computer so engineers can track its use and catch any problems.

The F-Cell vehicle being used by Farmington Hills is based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, a small, egg-shaped car sold in Europe. Other than some F-Cell stickers, the exterior looks the same as those vehicles.

The differences are under the hood and carriage. The fuel-cell engine is split into modules and laid out underneath the car.

"It feels like a normal car," said Gillian Pines, a public information specialist for the city who has driven the car. "It sounds really different. It sounds really quiet, almost like a humming sound."

The car turns heads, Pines said. If only momentarily, it raised her image in the eyes of her teenage son, who thought it was cool that his mom was able to drive a fuel-cell car.

"He was so impressed," Pines said.

DaimlerChrysler's Tran said the Farmington Hills vehicle is another step in the evolution of fuel-cell technology.

The project should help DaimlerChrysler find problems and fine-tune the vehicles so it can bring a fuel-cell car or truck to market, he said.

"We are making improvements with every generation," Tran said.

About the car

*

What is the City of Farmington Hills driving?

A DaimlerChrysler fuel-cell vehicle known as the F-Cell that's based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class sold in Europe.

How does a fuel-cell car work?

A fuel-cell engine combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, which is used to power the vehicle.

What are the advantages?

Hydrogen fuel-cell engines produce zero emissions. Water vapor is the by-product.

What are the disadvantages?

A much larger tank is required to store hydrogen, limiting either space or driving range. Drivers don't have many options for fueling stations.

When can I buy one?

DaimlerChrysler hopes to start selling a fuel-cell car by 2012, but the first market likely will be commercial customers, such as delivery companies.
 
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