U.S., Automakers Launch Fuel Cell Plan

DETROIT -- A new effort between the U.S. government and the Big Three automakers to make hydrogen-powered vehicles viable could take years if not decades to meet its goals.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said the joint research project, called Freedom CAR, would eventually help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and end pollution from vehicles, the Associated Press reported..

Freedom CAR was unveiled yesterday at the Detroit international auto show by Abraham and executives from General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler arm of DaimlerChrysler AG.

Under the program, the government will fund research into fuel cells, which use hydrogen to produce electricity without creating pollution as gasoline engines do. The deal will also advance different ways of handling hydrogen and create an infrastructure to make hydrogen fuels widely available.

Freedom CAR will replace the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program, a multibillion-dollar research effort between automakers and the U.S. government that sought to develop an affordable, gasoline-powered, family sedan capable of getting 80 miles per gallon by 2004.

The same companies who unveiled Freedom CAR have been fighting increases in federal mileage standards and have continued to shift more of their production into gas-thirsty trucks.

The previous government-industry research effort to build family sedans that could get 80 miles to the gallon has been used as a shield against higher fuel economy standards for decades, the report said.

Automakers have been spending billions of dollars on research to develop fuel cells as an eventual replacement for gasoline-powered combustion engines, which have powered cars for more than 100 years. But a big hurdle for the widespread adoption of fuel cell vehicles is the need for an infrastructure to make hydrogen more available.
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