Honda and Isuzu will work together on fuel cell-powered electric trucks

Honda hydrogen station for use in Japan

Honda R&D Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) and Isuzu Motors Ltd. (OTC: ISUZY) will jointly research hydrogen-powered fuel cell heavy-duty electric trucks as Honda makes its fuel cell expertise available to an outside company for the first time.

A joint press release on Wednesday offered few details of the collaboration beyond an acknowledgment that fuel cells make more sense for the heavy-duty trucks that Isuzu makes than for passenger cars, where battery-electric propulsion is favored by most automakers.

Several medium-duty truck makers are testing battery-electric propulsion because predictable routes ensure the trucks can return to base for overnight charging. The excess weight of batteries in heavy-duty long-haul applications affect range and reduce freight-carrying capacity.

Still, several manufacturers, including BYD (OTC: BYDDF) and Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA), plan to produce battery-powered heavy duties. Startup Nikola Motors said it will offer a battery-powered version of its fuel cell truck and plans to reveal a breakthrough in battery chemistry this fall that would double the range of a single electric charge.

With three decades of fuel cell expertise, Honda launched its fuel cell-powered Clarity passenger car in 2016. Honda and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) announced a fuel cell stack joint venture in Brownstown, Michigan, in January 2017. Production “around 2020” could be near as equipment is currently being installed.

The announcement made no connection between the U.S.-based joint venture and the research collaboration in Japan. Honda makes only passenger cars and light trucks, including a pickup. But it sees a limited market for fuel cell-powered passenger cars. Only about 10,000 hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles were on the road globally in 2019, according to IHS Markit.

Toyota leads in developing fuel cell tractors, working with Kenworth Truck Co. on a project to build 10 Class 8 fuel cell trucks for testing in California. Nikola has 14,000 orders for its fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks that are scheduled for production in late 2022.

Isuzu, best known for diesel engines, is modernizing its lineup to meet global demand for cleaner engine technologies.

Isuzu is researching and developing clean diesel, natural gas and battery-electric powertrains, according to the release. Isuzu recently purchased UD Trucks, the Japanese unit of Volvo Group, which tested Level 4 autonomous trucking at a sugar processing plant in the northern Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido in 2019.