VANCOUVER, British Columbia
technology will triumph in the pursuit of a "greener" auto
industry. Instead, the future will include a mix of cars
powered by electricity, hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels,
according to the world's biggest car makers.
Gathered together at a hydrogen and fuel cells conference
in Vancouver this week, car company executives said it is wrong
to characterize their search for the low- or no-pollution
vehicles of tomorrow as a battleground of technologies.
"This is nonsense. This is not about picking some winner,"
said Andreas Truckenbrodt, chief executive of Automotive Fuel
Cell Cooperation (AFCC), a company set up by Daimler AG
and Ford Motor Co to research fuel cells for
"All these technologies have their value," he said,
painting a picture of an auto industry in which combustion
engines will share the road with plug-in electric vehicles and
cars running on hydrogen.
Lawrence Burns, vice-president of research and development
at General Motors Corp, said there is no one "silver
bullet" solution for weaning the auto industry off its
dependence on petroleum.
"We need a full portfolio of solutions as we transition
from gasoline and diesel to renewables," Burns said, speaking
shortly after the former Detroit giant filed for bankruptcy.
Burns declined to comment on the filing other than to say
that the "new" GM "is about reinventing the automobile and the
With a finite amount of government and private funding for
research, and potentially rich rewards for the technology that
achieves widespread acceptance, competition among developers is
The Obama administration fanned the debate last month when
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu proposed a nearly two-thirds
cut in government funding for research into hydrogen-powered
cars in favor of supporting work on biofuels and batteries.
The hydrogen fuel-cell car was touted by former President
George W. Bush in 2003 as the pollution-free vehicle of the
future that would help the United States reduce its dependence
on foreign oil. But Chu believes its practical use is still 10
to 20 years away.
Fuel cell cars seen in 2015
Executives from GM, Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor
Co and the Daimler-Ford venture, AFCC, disagree and
peg 2015 as the date for commercialization of cars powered by
fuel cells -- devices that produce electricity from hydrogen
using a chemical reaction.
"I was very pleased that here were four auto companies all
saying pretty much the same thing about the state of readiness
of the technology," GM's Burns said.
Critics of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles say they will never
be economically mass-produced and cite difficulties such as
hydrogen production and storage, the high cost of the cars
themselves and the massive cost of building a network of
hydrogen fueling stations.
Carmakers acknowledge that hurdles remain but say that they
are working hard to overcome them.
"Fuel cells work fine. The No. 1 focus is now on cost
reductions, and we know how to get there," Truckenbrodt said.
"Do you really think we would be spending billions if we
were waiting for a miracle?" he said.
(Editing by Peter Galloway)
Copyright 2009 Reuters