By Joseph Lichterman and Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co and Honda Motor Co will jointly develop hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles over the next seven years, the latest alliance in an industry-wide effort to cut the technology's costs and meet stricter global emissions rules.
The two automakers, which announced their partnership on Tuesday, will also develop a refueling infrastructure that will be crucial for consumer acceptance and the long-term viability of fuel-cell vehicles.
Fuel-cell vehicles are getting renewed attention this year as global automakers race to meet emissions limits in China, Europe and the United States that are set to get tougher over the next 12 years.
GM and Honda said they will build on each other's technology and share suppliers to lower the cost of fuel-cell vehicles, which are more expensive to build than electric cars.
"At GM, we believe in hydrogen fuel cell technology as one of several possible alternatives to more traditional forms of propulsion, to help reduce petroleum dependence," GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky said in his prepared remarks ahead of a press conference in New York.
"However, the cost of such technology has not come down as far as it must to become more commercially viable," he added.
Fuel-cell cars use a "stack" of cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen in the air to generate electricity. Their only emission is water vapor. They can run five times longer than electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen, compared with eight hours or so to recharge a battery.
There are just two fuel-cell vehicles available in the U.S. market the Honda FCX Clarity and the Mercedes-Benz F-Cell. Honda plans to launch the successor of the FCX in Japan and the United States in 2015.
One barrier to their widespread adoption is the high cost of the platinum needed to kick-start the chemical reaction within the fuel cell. The platinum alone adds thousands of dollars in costs to each vehicle.
Another issue is the lack of hydrogen stations in the United States, which cost $1 million or more to build. On its website, the U.S. Department of Energy lists 10 public hydrogen stations, mostly in southern California.
As part of the collaboration, GM and Honda said they would work with local governments and others to expand the network of hydrogen stations.
Global automakers have formed a number of tie-ups to lower the costs of fuel-cell development. In January, Toyota Motor Corp and BMW AG outlined plans to launch fuel-cell vehicles around 2020.
That same month, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co announced a separate tie up to build fuel-cell vehicles within five years.
The partnerships come after the failure of electric cars to meet sales expectations, despite heavy subsidies worldwide. And while hybrids have gained ground, more is needed to meet the new emissions targets.
(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)