After successfully chalking up 865,000 miles of real-world fleet evaluation during the past three years, Ford has decided to lengthen the tour of duty for its 30 hydrogen-powered Focus Fuel Cell vehicles by an additional 24 months. According to the automaker's global fuel cell team, these first-generation cars have already lasted three times longer than their original expectations and evidence virtually no appreciable degradation in overall performance. Because of that stellar track record, the U.S. Department of Energy -- which underwrites a portion of the operating costs for this program -- agreed to see it continue on until Ford's brings its next-generation fuel cell technology online in 2010.
"We've had a lot of great experience with these cars and they're running quite well," said Scott Staley, Ford hybrid and fuel cell development chief engineer in North America. "We expected the fuel cells to be much more problematic under real world conditions, but it's a credit to our development process that the vehicles have been very robust."
While admitting the challenges to making the Hydrogen Highway a functional reality remain formidable, Ford Fuel Cell Technical Specialist Chris Gearhart is equally optimistic about the team's ability to meet its key internal goals of enhancing the efficiency, output, reliability and service life of the next iteration of its fuel cells while reducing their cost and size. "We're so much farther ahead than we were on the first generation," Gearhart said. "We have better development processes and robust disciplines in the way we're doing things."