Skip to main content
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!

New clean, quiet cars guzzle hydrogen

Experimental autos offer clean alternative to gasoline

By Jeordan Legon

The Mercedes fuel cell car mixes hydrogen with oxygen to make electricity.
The Mercedes fuel cell car mixes hydrogen with oxygen to make electricity.

   Story Tools

(CNN) -- They don't use gasoline or electricity, but these new Honda and Mercedes-Benz cars can whiz by at speeds up to 93 mph.

The new fuel cell cars are powered by hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, and they are pollution and noise free.

The mayor of smog-choked Los Angeles, Jim Hahn, likes them so much he signed a lease with Honda that will put city employees behind the wheel of five of the experimental cars by year's end.

"Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles hold great promise for future clean air vehicles," Hahn said in a press release. "It's important that Los Angeles play a leading role in development and early use of this technology."

Not to be outdone, DaimlerChrysler also announced the production of a fleet of Mercedes-Benz A-Class cars in the U.S. and Europe. Like Honda's cars, the DaimlerChrysler cars get their power from compressed hydrogen, which mixes with oxygen to create electricity.

But finding a fueling station won't be easy. Companies who agree to use Mercedes-Benzes' 60 fuel cell cars will also have to install hydrogen-filling stations, and a Honda spokesman said his company plans a mobile refueling unit.

Honda's fuel cell vehicle can reach speeds of 93 mph.
Honda's fuel cell vehicle can reach speeds of 93 mph.

If all that compressed hydrogen sounds dangerous, DaimlerChrysler spokesman Max Gates offered some reassurance.

"The engineering has been done with the fuel tanks to ensure their safety in all kinds of conditions, including collisions," he said.

Honda said its cars are certified by the California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

And the company claims its fuel cell cars even outlast the Mercedes version, covering 220 miles before needing refueling. The Mercedes car is a hydrogen guzzler in comparison -- getting only 90 miles per tank.

Pressure mounts

While the auto industry has tested hydrogen-powered cars for years, this is the first time that automakers are letting average drivers have the keys, a crucial step before the cars can be introduced to the general market.

That's not likely to happen for a decade or longer while more testing is done, Gates said.

Hydrogen is the latest in a long line of alternative fuels considered by automakers: electricity, methanol and natural gas among them.

With pressure to introduce more zero-emission vehicles -- including a California law requiring a percentage of new cars sold in that state to produce no smog -- the car industry is in a race to find a new fuel that will click with consumers.

Blame game

Car industry critics say the problem lies with automakers reticent to shell out millions of dollars to develop the technology. Carmakers blame consumers for not embracing alternative fuel vehicles.

With environmental damage from vehicle emissions mounting, many fleets of alternative fuel cars will have to hit the road to clean the air, said Richard Varenchik, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

"It's really for the automakers to decide to a great extent when they will introduce the cars to a wide enough market and then for the public to use them," Varenchik said.

Story Tools

Top Stories
Burgers, lattes and CD burners
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.