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Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will push the release of its first mass-market fuel cell vehicle up by one year, to 2014. At a media roundtable in New York, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche told reporters this week that his company was so impressed by its recent experience touring three pre-production vehicles around the world as part of the 30,000-km F-Cell World Drive Tour, that it was convinced the time is right to move forward with fuel cells.
“The product is ready for the market technically,” said Zetsche, as reported by Inside Line. “We have proven that by sending three vehicles with a fuel cell around the globe without any relevant problems. The issue is infrastructure. We made this trip to prove technology is ready and we need partners to take care of infrastructure.”
Currently, there are roughly 200 hydrogen fueling stations worldwide. In order to provide basic nationwide coverage in Mercedes-Benz’s home country of Germany, Zetsche has said that at least 1000 such stations would have to come online.
The first fuel cell vehicle likely for release is the Mercedes B-Class F-Cell—which was exhibited in the World Drive tour. The car is based on the Mercedes B-Class platform, a small family vehicle class first introduced in 2005 and headed to the United States for 2012.
The fuel cell variant of the B-Class features a front-wheel mounted electric motor capable of outputting 136 horsepower. The vehicle’s approximate range of 250 miles easily bests any of the currently announced mass-market plug-in electric vehicles, but as Daimler readily admits, price is still a major obstacle for fuel cells.
“The target is to be cost-wise by the middle of the decade at the level of the diesel hybrid, which is not cheap, but marketable today,” said Zetsche at the roundtable. “It’s a challenging target, but a realistic target.”
By year’s end, 70 B-Class F-Cells are scheduled to hit Los Angeles roads as part of a $850-per-month, 36-month test lease program.