Navistar to collaborate with GM, others on hydrogen fuel-cell commercial trucks

DETROIT (Reuters) – Truck maker Navistar International Corp said on Wednesday it will collaborate with U.S. automaker General Motors Co and others to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell powered commercial truck and supporting fueling network.

FILE PHOTO: A new hydrogen fuel cell truck made by Hyundai is pictured ahead of a media presentation for the zero-emission transport of goods at the Verkehrshaus Luzern (Swiss Museum of Transport) in Luzern, Switzerland October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Navistar is one of several companies globally, including Tesla Inc, Nikola Corp, Daimler AG and Hyundai Motor Co that are developing zero-carbon long-haul trucks. Moves by regulators to phase out internal combustion engines have energized a race to develop commercial vehicles powered by either batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

Navistar said it plans to offer its International RH Series fuel-cell truck – powered by GM fuel cells – in model year 2024. The target driving range is more than 500 miles, with a hydrogen fueling time of less than 15 minutes. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Hydrogen fuel company OneH2, in which Navistar will take a undisclosed minority stake, will supply a fueling solution and incorporate more than 2,000 of the trucks into existing customer fleets. In addition, J.B. Hunt Transport Services will be the first customer to use the truck.

“Hydrogen fuel cells offer great promise for heavy-duty trucks in applications requiring a higher density of energy, fast refueling and additional range,” Navistar Chief Executive Persio Lisboa said.

Hydrogen backers say it is cleaner than other carbon-cutting technologies because water and heat are the only byproducts and it can be made from numerous sources, including methane, coal, water, and even garbage. Fuel cell vehicles remain a niche technology, as there are not many fueling stations and potential customers also worry about resale values and the risk of hydrogen explosions.

For long-haul transport, proponents say hydrogen-powered trucks have an advantage over electric rivals as they have a greater range and require less time to charge. But they are expensive so their uptake and mass production has been slow.

Last November, Illinois-based Navistar and engine maker Cummins said they would work together on a fuel-cell Class 8 truck. Navistar is also developing battery electric trucks.

Also that month, Volkswagen AG’s truck unit Traton SE agreed to pay $3.7 billion for the outstanding shares of Navistar it doesn’t already own. That deal is expected to close in mid-2021.

Wednesday’s deal comes less than two months after GM announced a non-binding agreement to supply fuel cells to startup Nikola. GM said that deal is not affected by the Navistar agreement.

Under its agreement with Nikola, which must be finalized by year end, GM will supply its fuel-cell system for Nikola’s Class 7 and 8 commercial semi-trucks

Nikola expects to begin testing prototypes of its fuel-cell trucks by year end, and will break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station in the second quarter.

Nikola has also said it will launch its Tre electric semi-truck with CNH Industrial in the fourth quarter.

Korea’s Hyundai in December said it was launching a brand dedicated to its hydrogen fuel-cell system, and last year delivered its first H2 Xcient fuel-cell trucks to customers.

Japan’s Toyota has said a demonstration version off its heavy-duty fuel-cell truck, developed with subsidiary Hino Motor Co, would be ready in the first half of 2021.

Germany’s Daimler last June established a separate fuel-cell business unit, and previously announced a team-up with Volvo Trucks to develop fuel-cell systems for heavy-duty vehicles.

Tesla is aiming to compete for commercial customers with its electric Semi truck, which it expects to begin selling this year.

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