Mercedes-Benz is on course to launch its first production hydrogen fuel cell-powered car next year, according to R&D chief Dr Thomas Weber.
In an interview at the Detroit motor show, Weber responded to assertions that Mercedes had lost the intellectual lead it once held on hydrogen cars by revealing that the new production model would be a version of the full-size GLC SUV, featuring "the newest fuel cell technology available".
"We are in the middle of the car's roll-out phase right now," Weber revealed. The hardware required to generate electric power from hydrogen has been significantly reduced in size in recent times, he said, and the new hydrogen Mercedes would reflect the fact.
Weber also confirmed that Daimler engineers were "well advanced" on the company's plan to build a fully electric production car.
He declined an invitation to reveal which existing Mercedes model would be used as the car's basis (a Tesla Model S competitor is strongly rumoured), or to say exactly when it would hit the market, although it's expected to have its debut at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show before arriving in showrooms the year after. Weber did however confirm that the car would have a range of 250 to 300 miles and be the first vehicle to use a set of modular components that could be shared by hybrid and electric models across the group.
In an interview last year, Weber told Autocar that it would take about three minutes to refuel the fuel cell car's hydrogen tanks, and that the new model is set to be called the GLC F-Cell. It’s expected to be offered to customers in selected markets on either a monthly lease or outright purchase programme. The price is expected to be around £50,000.
Competitors for the GLC F-Cell include the recently introduced Toyota Mirai and Honda FCV Clarity. A further hydrogen-propelled rival is expected to come from BMW, which recently confirmed plans to launch its first fuel cell model by 2020.
Despite basing earlier fuel cell prototypes on the B-Class, Weber said the continued high cost of the fuel cell stack makes a hydrogen fuel cell model commercially viable only in higher classes.
He said: “The technology has matured greatly in recent years, with improved packaging and efficiency, but it remains in its infancy and is still quite expensive by conventional driveline standards.”
As in Mercedes' earlier B-Class F-Cell prototype, the GLC F-Cell's fuel cell is planned to be mounted in the space usually occupied by the GLC’s combustion engine.