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California Drivers Wanted: Mercedes Looking For Customers To Test Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Here

By Art Michalik
August 30, 2009

Mercedes-Benz is launching its first production fuel cell car: the new B-Class F-CELL, and several are headed to California to be driven by consumers here in the Golden State.

Production of the Mercedes-Benz B Class F-CELL will begin in late 2009 with the first of around 200 vehicles will be delivered to customers in Europe and California at the beginning of next year. Check out the videos at the bottom of this page for a better look at the B Class F-CELL.

No details were released on how consumers would be selected, however it is assumed it will be similar to the process Honda used to select customers to lease its Clarity FCX fuel cell vehicles: primarily proximity to accessible hydrogen refueling stations.

While not sold in the United States, the regular production version of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class is available in Canada and Mexico (where it is produced at Ju‡rez, Mexico plant).

The company says that the B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel cell electric car offers performance similar to that of a 2.0 liter gasoline engined car and is capable of being on an everyday driving basis.

“The new fuel cell vehicle offers everything that people expect from a Mercedes-Benz: High comfort and safety as well as no reduction in interior space and luggage capacity. Customers will not have to sacrifice any driving pleasure either, because the electric motor has a peak performance of 136 hp and a maximum torque of 214 lb-ft, which is available immediately upon acceleration,” according to a company statement.

Despite these qualities, the zero-emission fuel cell drive consumes the equivalent of 3.3 liters of diesel fuel per 100 kilometers, or about 71.4 miles per gallon. With a range of about 250 mile and refueling times of around three minutes, the B-Class F-CELL provides the type of zero-emission mobility typically associated with local-level green vehicles now available for longer drives, the company claims.

“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”, says Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Group Research and Development for Mercedes-Benz Cars.

The vehicle’s technological heart is a new generation of a compact, high-performance fuel cell system, in which gaseous hydrogen reacts with atmospheric oxygen at 10,000 psi to generate a current for the electric motor. The fuel cell system of the B-Class F-CELL has good cold-start capability even at temperatures as low as -13 F. As in hybrids with combustion engines, the fuel-cell car uses a lithium-ion battery with an output of 35 kW and a capacity of 1.4 kWh to boost power and recover braking energy. Lithium-ion technology offers several advantages over conventional batteries, including compact dimensions, high performance, great recharge efficiency and a long service life.

The B-Class F-CELL employs the unique sandwich floor architecture that is well-known from the Mercedes-Benz A- and B-Class as well as the Smart ForTwo. The advantage of this design is that the drive components are located in the sandwich floor, where they are protected and don’t take up much space so that the vehicle’s interior remains fully usable and a luggage capacity of 14.7 cubic feet is available (a similar construction is being developed for the Tesla Model S).

One caveat: a comprehensive network of hydrogen filling stations (CLICK HERE for a map of California stations) still has to be set up before locally zero-emission driving can become a widespread reality. To make this possible, Daimler is cooperating with government authorities, energy utilities and oil companies in joint projects in places such as Hamburg, Stuttgart and California.

“Mercedes-Benz views the development of electric cars with battery and fuel cell drives for local zero-emission driving as a means of supplementing vehicles with high-tech internal combustion engines. Advanced diesel and petrol engines will remain important for automotive applications for a long time to come – not only for individual mobility in passenger cars – especially over long distances – but, more importantly, for freight transport in trucks. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, will increasingly be used in urban transport,” according to the company’s statement.

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