NEW YORK — A director of a technical team for the U.S. Department of Energy's FreedomCAR program says it will take more than a decade before mass-produced fuel cell-powered vehicles hit dealer showrooms.

Patrick B. Davis told the recent Fuel Cell Dynamics 2002 Forum here that it will be 2012 before about 50,000 FCVs are on the road. It will be 2015 before 500,000 to 1 million FCVs go on sale, he forecasts.

The forum was sponsored by Allied Business Intelligence, a New York think tank that studies emerging technical developments. Davis told attendees that the announced schedules by auto makers to have FCV fleets on the road by 2004 will result in tens or perhaps hundreds of vehicles for test fleets in two or three states. In the next phase, hundreds of FCVs will be operated by government users in five to eight targeted sites.

He forecasts that only some 5,000 FCVs will be in service for taxis and buses in the 2008 to 2012 timeframe. This will allow auto makers to analyze consumer acceptance before going into mass production.

The FreedomCAR program requires auto makers to bear the costs of developing FCVs. However, the government will pay for hydrogen fuel and infrastructure development. The government also will buy the FCVs that go into their test fleets. DOE will submit a report to Congress in November on progress of the FreedomCAR program and is entertaining a budget proposal of some $150 million. The report is expected to call for a large vehicle demonstration plan divided into three phases stretching out to 2012.