China Revs Up in the Hydrogen Race

For a country where consumer car production hardly existed five years ago, China is making some considerable strides in mean, green driving machines. Last week, shares of Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems shot up after it signed an agreement with a Shanghai fuel-cell development firm to supply up to 20 fuel-cell systems to be installed in vehicles owned by the government of Shanghai. Last month, it was that city's Forever Co. that took home four gold medals for its fuel-cell-powered cars during the Michelin Challenge Bibendum 2006, the sustainable mobility summit in Paris. And right now, commuters in Beijing (and soon, Shanghai) can hop on three zero-emission hydrogen buses, as part of a UNDP-sponsored pilot program. (This hydrogen news is of course to say nothing of this week's annoucement by Chang'an Motor Corp, the Chinese partner of Ford and Suzuki, that it will enter the hybrid sector in China by 2008, mimicking the earlier plans of Chinese automaker Geely.)Given the country's continuing demand for cars, high carbon dioxide rates, growing pollution, and concerns about oil dependency, such bounds (especially in the still-costly and complicated field of fuel cells) arrive not a moment too soon. And as Chinese cars enter the western market in coming years, these developments will likely impact energy-efficient motoring around the world.

Malcolm Bricklin, the guy who brought Subaru and Yugo automobiles to the United States, has just revealed his partnership with a major East Coast dealership chain to begin U.S. distribution of cars manufactured by China's Chery Automobile in late 2007, while others seem to be following suit. In and of itself, this isn't especially green news, given that these Chinese companies don't yet meet U.S. emissions standards. But as the related Washington Post article, "Import Veteran Plans to Bring Chinese-Made Hydrogen Cars to U.S.," points out (despite its teasing title, hydrogen cars are not part of Bricklin's plan) the chances are good that China's hydrogen research and hybrid forays will be a further green prod to western automakers in the not-too-distant future.