Ostensibly, it’s a revolution. On 3 September last, CNH Industrial, the parent company of Iveco and Heuliez, announced a strategic alliance with Nikola, a US manufacturer of electric-hydrogen trucks whose first models are not yet on the market. This is the first time a major European HGV manufacturer has officially turned the corner on hydrogen.
Could it really be anything else? Nobody has disputed the significance of the announcement, but isn’t it really just another ‘evolution’ in the guise of a ‘revolution’? Hydrogen technology has become essential because it combines fuel independence with zero emissions, and it’s now accepted as one of the few solutions that meet the needs of goods transportation and urban logistics companies which are trying to bring about the energy transition in their sector – a commercial vehicle can refuel in minutes and will run for twice as long on a single charge as a vehicle powered by battery only.
The French government is also predicting that there will be almost 2,000 trucks and more than 20,000 light commercial vehicles on the roads by 2028, with 1,000 charging stations for easy refuelling. The ‘evolution’ is already underway in the regions: Ile-de-France should have around 30 charging stations within three years, Auvergne-Rhône Alpes will have 20, and Normandy will have as many as 15 within just a few months. Some countries are a lot further down the line, especially China who are on course to massively overstep the threshold of 100,000 trucks by 2028.
These plans have yet to be put into practice, and the onus is largely in the hands of hydrogen system parts manufacturers. One of these is Symbio – a subsidiary of Michelin – which is in the process of setting up a joint venture with Faurecia; others include Bosch-PowerCell and Ballard Systems. These manufacturers must succeed in bringing the price of their systems down to make this type of vehicle a viable option; this will standardise their products and grow their production capacities rapidly. However, they must also consider that not all vehicle segments are at the same stage of development: there are over 300 Kangoo ZEH2s already on the road in Europe, while HGVs are still in prototype. So flexibility and the potential for customisation of products cannot be overlooked in responding to the demand for standardisation. It’s not that simple. And of course, they must help car manufacturers to shorten the development time for hydrogen vehicles because there are so many people waiting for them, especially for travelling into the city centre for work.
With the backing of its parent company, the Michelin group, and prospects of a joint venture with Faurecia, Symbio has acquired the assets it needs to take on the specific challenges of the hydrogen transport market:
A revolution in the parts manufacturing business? Not at all. It’s an essential evolution!
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