Two things about 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell are potential game changers within the hydrogen-powered vehicle landscape. First, this pre-production SUV is actually good looking, which means that Honda and Toyota do not have much of an excuse for the styling of Clarity and Mirai. Second, GLC F-Cell runs on hydrogen fuel or on battery-stored electricity. Toyota’s Mirai requires access to hydrogen filling stations, while Honda’s Clarity lineup forces consumer to choose between gas-electric plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen electric drivetrains. The flexibility Mercedes brings to field is key to encouraging adoption of fuel-cell technology while the necessary infrastructure is built. The fueling process is a familiar one and takes far less time than charging a battery pack. Nothing but water vapor is emitted from vehicle’s tailpipe and hydrogen producers are increasingly using clean, green, sustainable methods to produce the fuel. All that’s missing from a fuel-cell future is infrastructure and an attractively styled hydrogen vehicle. With 2020 GLC F-Cell, Mercedes solves for one of those challenges.

Taking what it learned with B-Class F-Cell, which company offered in limited numbers starting in 2010, Mercedes-Benz has made several key improvements to its hydrogen fuel-cell technology. Featuring a 147 kW electric motor making 197 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, GLC F-Cell is 40% more powerful than B-Class F-Cell and the drivetrain’s size is 30% smaller, allowing Mercedes to tuck all powertrain components under the SUV’s hood. Also, fuel cell itself uses 90% less platinum in its construction, significantly reducing the costs associated with production. Hydrogen is stored in 2 tanks, encased in carbon fiber and located both within the GLC F-Cell’s floor and underneath its back seat. Combined, they hold 4,4 kilograms of hydrogen and new, globally standardized tank technology facilitates refueling in just 3 minutes, which is about how long a traditional gasoline tank requires.

A 13,8 kWh lithium-ion battery is located beneath the SUV’s cargo area. It can be recharged in as little as 90 minutes when using a municipal fast-charger station. Plan for longer connection times with a 240 volt home charging station, and much longer times if you are using a standard electrical outlet in your home. Drivers select from 4 operation modes and 3 driving modes. The driving modes are both familiar and self-descriptive Eco, Comfort and Sport. The operating modes require explanation. In F-Cell operating mode, hydrogen in the fuel tanks powers the SUV. In Battery mode, lithium-ion battery is sole source of power, providing about 30 miles of range by European standards. To maximize range, estimated to be about 270 miles on the European cycle, the Hybrid mode allows the GLC F-Cell to draw on both battery and hydrogen fuel, intelligently using each for optimal efficiency. Finally, a Charge mode prioritizes charging of battery and also activates reserves of power for enthusiastic or uphill driving situations.

Mercedes-Benz assures potential GLC F-Cell buyers that it has put the car through stringent safety testing that exceeds the requirements mandated by law. Furthermore, a full suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems is standard for this model. Interior space is a little smaller than a standard GLC-Class. Cargo floor sits a little higher, as does rear seat. An automatic climate control system can pre-condition cabin for driving, as well as activate the heated seats and side mirrors. Revised instrumentation reflects drivetrain’s information delivery requirements. Mercedes also used GLC F-Cell’s introduction at 2017 International Auto Show in Frankfurt to introduce a new generation of its Comand infotainment system with a Multitouch handwriting recognition system and Linguatronic voice recognition technology.

Mercedes-Benz is not new to fuel-cell vehicle design and engineering. Company’s first foray into fuel cells was the Necar 1 in 94′. Today, company plans to introduce 10 electric vehicles by 2022 and company considers GLC F-Cell to be “an important landmark,” characterizing it as “a family-friendly electric vehicle of high everyday practicality.” By time it goes on sale in United States near the end of 2019, California is projected to have doubled its hydrogen fueling infrastructure to around 90 filling stations and a handful of stations should be up and running in Northeast. Nevertheless, experts predict that consumer demand for fuel cells after 2020 is likely to outstrip fueling capability, posing potential problems for owners of hydrogen-powered cars. Hedging its bet, Mercedes has engineered GLC F-Cell to run for short distances purely on its battery. Though solution is not ideal, it certainly serves to bridge infrastructure gap between where we are today and where we are going to be tomorrow.

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