While some of the limelight has swung away from fuel cells, Mercedes is still chasing the technology and has just announced a new milestone: It's F-Cell is the first series-produced vehicle that's hydrogen powered.
This is the first time Mercedes has moved beyond a concept car into a "proof of concept" car with the tech, and it's integrated the new fuel and drive-train into a B-Class car. The combination of an in-production chassis and the newly-polished engine means that the car is actually being produced in sample quantities late in 2009, and a short-run production will result in 200 cars in early 2010, which will be sold to customers in the U.S. and Europe. While that's not mass-production by any means, it's unquestionably a significant step in getting road-going fuel-cell cars into the public's hands.
Unfortunately, most of the world still lacks any hydrogen fueling infrastructure, so unless you live along Norway's hydrogen highway or in Iceland (aka "Energy Island") you probably won't have much use for this vehicle. Which is a shame, here's why: Including the F-Cell engine into the B-Class results in a car that has the same interior space and trunk capacity as a traditional gasoline-powered version, and hasn't compromised Mercedes' famous high build-quality. This has been done by squeezing many of the components into a sandwich layer in the floor of the car, which places them out of the way and increases the safety aspects of the design--Mercedes has undertaken 30 extra crash tests on top of the normal certification ones, and optimized the safety of the new design as a result.
And how does it perform? Pretty impressive--it does deliver much of the promise of hydrogen-powered electric cars. It's got a Li-ion battery to boost power and store energy from regenerative braking, a 100kW electric motor with 290Nm torque that can push the car up to 105mph. It does all this with zero CO2 output and, in the strange back-to-front fuel equivalence calculations, it manages 3.3 liters diesel-equivalent per 100km. It's got a max range of 240 miles, and can even cope with wintry weather--its can cold-start at -25ºC.