General Motors most recently expanded its fuel cell partnership with Honda to announce it will manufacture its next-generation of the tech in Michigan at a joint production facility. The goal is to begin production in the year 2020.
But, fuel cell vehicles are far from profitable and the lack of fueling infrastructure remains a serious concern for the technology. So, how does GM plan to turn a profit with this business? Automotive News spoke to Mark Reuss, GM product chief, and Charlie Frees, director of fuel cell business, to gain some insight.
The resounding answers provided no specific details on the future plans, but part of it is certainly economies of scale. Currently, fuel cells are hand assembled in small numbers and very expensive to produce. By mass-producing fuel cells, costs will come down. Both GM executives also said the process would be “highly automated”, likely another move to ensure costs drop for the technology.
However, GM has shied away from producing fuel cell vehicles for public consumption. Instead, it has focused on larger scale projects, such as the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, which uses GM fuel cell technology in an imagined next-generation U.S. Army vehicle.
Reuss expanded on that to say there will certainly be a focus on the aerospace and military industries, but AN thinks there may be a wildcard: fuel cell backup power generators.
By installing fuel cell units and phasing out older power generators, it would provide even more scale for manufacturing. First, it would install the units at GM offices and facilities, then it could offer up the solution for other companies.
However, this wouldn’t solve the age-old problem of fueling infrastructure, as analysts note. But it provides a starting point to keep costs down on the tech itself.
GM has three years to roll out its fuel cell plan before production begins. And for now, only time will tell where the tech will show face.