Hot on the heels of similar collaboration between Toyota and BMW, today from Yokohama Japan a joint fuel cell development deal was signed by Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

The goal is nothing less than the launch of the “world’s first affordable, mass-market” fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) by 2017. By teaming up, the three companies will split costs equally, and share lessons and efficiencies learned.

Each company will aim to bring its own uniquely branded FCEVs to market based on common technology. Included in this will be the all-important, and up till now cost-prohibitive fuel cell stack and fuel system.

All three – Daimler, Ford and Nissan – already have significant inroads into developing FCEVs, and state collectively they’ve logged over 10 million kilometers in testing of research vehicles.

The companies state that this latest move “sends a clear signal to suppliers, policymakers and the industry to encourage further development of hydrogen refueling stations and other infrastructure necessary to allow the vehicles to be mass-marketed.”

The FCEVs are touted as being complementary to other electrified vehicles, and are not at this point being seen as a next evolutionary step to supplant and render obsolete yet-new battery electric technologies also being developed.

“Fuel cell electric vehicles are the obvious next step to complement today’s battery electric vehicles as our industry embraces more sustainable transportation,” said Mitsuhiko Yamashita, Member of the Board of Directors and Executive Vice President of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., supervising Research and Development. “We look forward to a future where we can answer many customer needs by adding FCEVs on top of battery EVs within the zero-emission lineup.”

FCEVs are touted as environmentally friendly, but are not without controversy. One can readily find viewpoints in the main stating FCEVs require more energy to create fuel for than the fuel itself actually provides. This contention, if true, seems not to be something the major automakers are heeding as they team up to bring FCEVs to market.

Instead, FCEV’s benefits of being able to refuel much faster than a present-day EV and emitting only water, and thus no greenhouse gases, are among those regularly promoted.

“We are convinced that fuel cell vehicles will play a central role for zero-emission mobility in the future. Thanks to the high commitment of all three partners we can put fuel cell e-mobility on a broader basis. This means with this cooperation we will make this technology available for many customers around the globe,” said Prof. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Group Research & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.

The zero-emissions goals are not entirely altruistic either, but are actually mandated by the American and European governments. As such, automakers have been pooling resources to tackle dauntingly expensive projects such as this, the announcement of a viable fuel cell vehicle inside of five years. 2017 is the beginning point of the ramp up to stricter standards through to 2025 for the U.S. CAFE mandates, and Europe also is bearing down on emissions.

The FCEV development work, say the companies, will be conducted in respective locations around the world.

Although these companies are primarily competitors, putting aside what might otherwise be considered intellectual property secrets and creating an effective brain trust is another aspect of the expedient aside from mere cost sharing.

Perhaps it demonstrates companies are getting smarter, or at least it shows the pressures being exerted by mandates to technologically overcome worldwide problems arising from waning petroleum supplies and global warming.

“Working together will significantly help speed this technology to market at a more affordable cost to our customers,” said Raj Nair, group vice president, Global Product Development, Ford Motor Company. “We will all benefit from this relationship as the resulting solution will be better than any one company working alone.”