Hydrogen trucks get a boost on GM fuel-cell deal with Navistar
General Motors Co. has agreed to supply its hydrogen fuel-cell system to Navistar Internatonal Corp. as the semi-truck maker rolls out plans to build a zero-emission long-haul freight business starting in 2024.
The move is sure to have a ripple effect on competitors including startup Nikola Corp., which also has an agreement to buy GM’s fuel-cell system for its own planned freight trucks starting in late 2023.
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GM initially signed a tentative agreement to take a stake in Nikola and help the company develop its trucks, but the two sides scaled back their cooperative ambitions to a simple supply agreement in November.
Navistar’s deal with GM gives it one of the key pieces the truckmaker needs to start building and selling big rigs that use hydrogen. In addition to working with GM, Navistar also announced on Wednesday a partnership with startup OneH2 Inc. to develop a hydrogen-fueling network. Shipper J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. will use the trucks and fueling system in a pilot program.
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“Hydrogen fuel cells offer great promise for heavy-duty trucks in applications requiring a higher density of energy, fast refueling and additional range," Persio Lisboa, Navistar’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are providing a solution that will enable the technology," he said on a call with journalists.
Fuel cells, which use hydrogen on board to generate electricity and power a vehicle, are seen as a better solution than battery-electric power for long hauls because the trucks can carry more freight and run longer distances before needing to refuel.
Rivals include Toyota Motor Corp., which is developing a hydrogen-powered semi with subsidiary Hino Motors Ltd., a partnership between Volvo Group and Daimler AG, and Hyundai Motor Co., which has ambitious plans for its own heavy-duty fuel-cell truck.
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Navistar’s strategy is very similar to Nikola’s. Both companies want to sell the trucks and also produce and sell the hydrogen to those buyers. Nikola has been looking for an energy company to help develop its promised hydrogen-fueling network but has blown past an initial year-end 2020 deadline and signaled it may need to go it alone.
Navistar said its trucks will be able to drive 500 miles before refueling using GM’s Hydrotech fuel cell and refill in 15 minutes.
As part of the deal, Navistar will also take a minority stake in Longview, North Carolina-based OneH2.