Mercedes-Benz has announced its entry into the hydrogen power race with the launch of its first-ever production fuel-cell vehicle, the B-class F-cell.
An initial fleet of 200 zero-emission models is due for completion by the end of the year and will be shipped to lease-only customers throughout the US and Europe in early 2010.
Speaking about move a Mercedes spokesman said, “2009 is the year in which we are establishing further milestones where sustainable mobility is concerned. The B-Class F-cell is taking on a pioneering role as the world’s first fuel cell powered automobile to be produced under series production conditions.”
The German outfit boasts that its hydrogen-electric hybrid powertrain (video) can achieve performance comparable to a 2.0-litre petrol car, at the equivalent of an astonishing 86.6mpg on the combined cycle.
It takes an impressive three minutes to refuel the car with hydrogen, enabling a range of around 250 miles. Under the bonnet, the integrated electric motor achieves 134bhp and 214lb ft of torque, easily better than the company’s 1.8-litre petrol B-class (B180 BlueEfficiency SE guise), which only offers 114bhp and 114lb ft of torque.
A key feature of the new model is its ability to perform cold starts, a major weakness of f-cell vehicles to date. The B-Class F-cell can spark up in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius, meaning it’s competitive with main competitor the Honda FCX Clarity, which can start from minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Following this relatively low key start, it’s quite possible that Mercedes will emerge as the first serious challenger to Honda’s early lead in hydrogen technology. However, at this stage I have to say it seems more likely that the move is down to the company’s need to hedge its bets in case the current surge of interest in electric technology runs out of steam.