In 2010, Mercedes-Benz delivered a new B-Class F-Cell hydrogen car to its first U.S. customer, Vance Van Petten, executive director of the Producers Guild of America. According to Van Petten at the time, “As a long-time environmental advocate and supporter of sustainable production and eco-friendly transport, I’m thrilled to be driving a vehicle that I believe represents the future of environmentally thoughtful transportation. Not only does it have zero emissions, but it also provides me with all of the safety technology one expects from Mercedes-Benz.”
Five years ago, Van Petten, who paid $849 a month for his lease, could fuel up at the University of California at Irvine or in Culver City. Today, as hydrogen infrastructure has expanded, he and other fuel-cell car drivers have a wider choice of stations.
The B-Class, also a platform for Mercedes’ battery electric car, is still the company’s fuel-cell flagship, though that could change. Australian magazine Motoring quotes Ola Kallenius, Mercedes-Benz head of sales and marketing that by 2017 the company wants to “launch the next level,” an SUV-based hydrogen car. Kallenius described fuel cells as “a very attractive propulsion method [that] we will keep on investing in, and then we’ll see how quickly [a paradigm shift to mass production of fuel-cell cars] happens.”
Meanwhile, we have the F-Cell, which is a limited edition of approximately 200, with 45 or so delivered to the U.S. (and others to Europe, Singapore and Japan). The F-Cell has a 134 horsepower motor (driving the front axle) and a range of 230 miles, which is less than other fuel-cell cars. It uses 10,000 psi (700 bar) energy storage.
According to Robert Moran, a U.S. Mercedes spokesman, “Currently we have 59 F Cells in operation, most with customers who have extended their lease or with new customers participating through our CPO lease program.”
Zero to 61 mph takes 11.4 seconds. It’s no lightweight, tipping the scales around 4,000 pounds. The car came loaded, with a six-DVD changer and navigation. The fuel cell stacks and hydrogen tanks are nicely packaged under the passenger floor; the F-Cell retains full luggage capacity.
Approximately 40 of those cars have gone through a single dealership, Fletcher Jones Motorcars in Newport Beach, which has two hydrogen stations within a mile of its location. Trevor Wightman, a sales representative there, has also heard about the new Mercedes fuel-cell car around 2017, and he thinks it will be based on the lightest of the company’s SUVs, the GLA.
If Benz goes that route, it will put its new fuel-cell vehicle in line with Hyundai’s
Wightman says that his customers, who indicated their interest by filling in an online survey, are “pioneers when it comes to buying these cars.” Many of the F-Cells have cycled through their first lease owners, were reconditioned by Mercedes, and then went out again as $499 a month pre-owned cars.
Mercedes-Benz’s road-worthy hydrogen program began with a series of Necar cars, trucks and buses in 1994. The first generation of the F-Cell was based on the not-imported-to-the-U.S. A-Class, and appeared in 2002. That one would go only about 100 miles on a tank of gaseous hydrogen, with a top speed of 82 mph. Some 500 were produced and leased to European customers.