See Inside March 2005

On the Road to Fuel-Cell Cars

Although fleets of fuel-cell prototypes are hitting the streets, basic technical and market obstacles must be hurdled before the clean, hydrogen-powered cars reach dealer showrooms

The automated speed traps that ward the approaches to Nabern, Germany, seem to be the only things that can wipe the smile off Rosario Berretta's face. "Please slow down here," he murmurs darkly as our vehicle nears the outskirts of the picturesque Swabian village. Berretta leads a team that is preparing a fleet of 60 of DaimlerChrysler's latest hydrogen fuel-cell car, the F-Cell, for testing worldwide. The aim is to allow automakers to evaluate the pollution-free, energy-efficient vehicles in diverse driving conditions. The curly-headed engineer is eager for visitors to try out the F-Cell's quick pickup off the line, one of the benefits of having an electric motor under the hood. But such maneuvers have to wait until the sharp eyes of the camera traps get small in the rearview mirror.

Despite its high-tech propulsion system, the F-Cell looks, performs and handles like a Toyota Corolla, a Ford Focus or any other conventional small car. Thus, the F-Cell seems less like a next-generation prototype and more like a real-world car. The sole clue of anything out of the ordinary is the unfamiliar whir of a compressor--a noise that Berretta vows company engineers will soon muffle.

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