Ford, Daimler and the Renault-Nissan Alliance sign an agreement to accelerate the development of fuel-cell electric-vehicle technology with a goal of launching the world’s first affordable mass-market FCEV as early as 2017.

Ford and Daimler have operated a joint venture called the Automotive Fuel Cell Corp. with Vancouver-based fuel-cell supplier Ballard since 1997. But Ford spokesman Alan Hall says Renault-Nissan will not be involved directly with AFCC.

However, “Vancouver will serve as a center of engineering excellence for the 3-way alliance,” he tells WardsAuto. “The facility will be (used) for research and development.”

Hall does not disclose potential volumes for the mass-market FCEV, but Bloomberg reports the trio of auto makers will build a combined 100,000 vehicles.

The auto makers say the partnership will reduce the investment costs associated with engineering the technology, maximize design commonality, leverage volume and derive efficiencies through economies of scale.

“Fuel-cell electric vehicles are the obvious next step to complement today’s battery-electric vehicles as our industry embraces more sustainable transportation,” Mitsuhiko Yamashita, executive vice president-Nissan, says in a statement.

The partners plan to develop a common fuel-cell stack and system that can be used by each auto maker to launch highly differentiated, separately branded FCEVs that produce no carbon-dioxide emissions.

Powered by electricity generated from hydrogen and oxygen, FCEVs emit only water and are considered complementary to battery-powered EVs, the auto makers say.

“Thanks to the high commitment of all three partners, we can put fuel-cell mobility on a broader basis,” Thomas Weber, a member of Daimler’s board of management, says in a statement.

Engineering work on both the fuel-cell stack and the fuel-cell system will be done by the three auto makers at several locations around the world. The partners also are studying joint development of other FECV components. Spreading development across different regions will help the companies better define global specifications, they say.

“Working together will significantly help speed this technology to market at a more affordable cost to our customers,” Raj Nair, Ford group vice president-global product development, says in a statement. “We will all benefit from this relationship, as the resulting solution will be better than any one company working alone.”

bpope@wardsauto.com