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DaimlerChrysler introduces car powered by fuel cells

fuel cell car
DaimlerChrysler's fuel-cell-powered car has a top speed of 90 mph and goes 280 miles before refueling

Take a ride with CNN's Kathleen Koch
Windows Media 28K 80K

March 17, 1999
Web posted at: 9:54 a.m. EST (1454 GMT)

In this story:

Goodbye to gas-powered cars?

Making fuel cells more economical


ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- DaimlerChrysler debuted a new small car Wednesday -- but it's not your typical compact.

Open the trunk and find a tank of liquid hydrogen. In the engine, fuel cells convert the liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the air into electricity and water to power the vehicle.

"It's about 50 percent more fuel-efficient than vehicles of today," said Bernard Robertson, a vice president at DaimlerChrysler, which has built the prototype vehicle known as NECAR 4. "It's totally clean. Absolutely zero emissions except water, which you can drink. And it leaves room for all the passengers inside."

The car, based on the Mercedes-Benz A-class compact car sold in Europe, seats five people, has a top speed of 90 mph and travels 280 miles before needing refueling. And it is quiet. The only sound is the compressor pushing air through the fuel cells, which are stacked beneath the car's floorboard.

It's no sports car, though, accelerating from 0 to 35 miles per hour in six seconds. And it's heavy, weighing 3,800 pounds -- about the weight of an average sports utility vehicle.

Goodbye to gas-powered cars?

In the engine, fuel cells convert the liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the air into electricity and water  

Environmentalists praised the new technology, saying it heralds the demise of gasoline-powered cars.

"This fuel cell vehicle shows the days of the internal combustion engine are numbered," said Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. "We don't know how big that number is, but they're definitely on their way out."

But not yet, countered Frank Markus of Car and Driver magazine.

"The internal combustion engine has gotten so clean and so efficient and so powerful and all that it's pretty tough to beat it right now," he said.

Making fuel cells more economical

DaimlerChrysler hopes to reduce the car's weight, and increase its pickup and speed by the time it releases the NECAR X in the year 2004.

The NECAR X will likely run on methanol -- and be cheaper

than the current prototype, which costs more than $100,000.

Still, DaimlerChrysler calls the NECAR 4 a major breakthrough because the fuel cell technology is small enough to fit into a compact car.

"Now we are looking to make the technology affordable to every consumer," said DaimlerChrysler chairman Robert Eaton.

Other companies are scrambling to match DaimlerChrysler's production schedule. Ford, General Motors and Honda all say they hope to market some type of fuel cell vehicle by 2004.

Correspondent Kathleen Koch contributed to this report.

The auto's road to the future
February 11, 1999
Electric, hybrid cars get push with Energy grants
January 5, 1999
Bus showcases fuel cell technology
May 19, 1998
First U.S. fuel-cell car hits the road
April 29, 1998
Firm powers research on low-pollution cars
October 27, 1997

Daimler Chrysler
Car and Driver
Ford Motor Company
The Online Fuel Cell Information Company
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