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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Ferdinand Panik

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

The Fuel Cell on Its Way to the Customer: DaimlerChrysler Presents the First Fleet of Passenger Cars and Buses

-30 Citaro fuel cell buses to be operated by transport undertakings in ten major European cities as of 2003 -Practical testing of 60 Mercedes-Benz A-Class "F-Cell" models by customers within the framework of cooperative ventures in Europe, the USA, Japan and Singapore -First results of one year of practical testing of a fuel-cell-powered Sprinter by Hermes Versand Service Eight years after the launch of the NECAR 1 concept study, DaimlerChrysler is now presenting the first fuel cell vehicles which will be deployed in fleets and tested by customers in Europe, the USA, Japan and Singapore. This will involve 30 Citaro city buses which will be supplied to transport undertakings in ten major European cities from 2003, as well as 60 Mercedes-Benz A-Class "F-Cell" models. These cars will likewise be operated and tested by customers within the framework of cooperative ventures in Europe, the USA, Japan and Singapore from 2003. With this step, DaimlerChrysler leaves the concept vehicle stage and sets another milestone on the way to the marketability of this promising propulsion technology.

Prof. Klaus-Dieter Vöhringer, responsible for Research on the DaimlerChrysler Board of Management: "Overcoming the dependence on crude oil and finding solutions to the energy problems of the future is one of the biggest challenges with which researchers and engineers are faced."

Since introducing the first NECAR (New Electric Car) in 1994, pioneer DaimlerChrysler has decisively advanced the fuel cell technology and presented 20 concept vehicles, thus demonstrating the technical feasibility of the revolutionary new propulsion principle employing the "fuel cell". The fuel cell functions as an electrochemical energy converter on board the vehicle to generate energy from hydrogen for an electric motor. The size and weight of the drive unit have been reduced considerably since then while performance has improved tremendously.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class "F-Cell", the first car to grow out of the research stage go on the road Now, with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class "F-Cell", the first cars to grow out of the research stage go on the road. The cars in this fleet feature a special, innovative interior design, offer just as much space as the production cars and are being manufactured under near-standard conditions. The development of this technology will now be furthered mainly in practical operation. The A-Class "F-Cell" marks a milestone in automotive history and once again demonstrates the technological competence of the company.

Prof. Jürgen Hubbert, member of the DaimlerChrysler Board of Management with responsibility for the Mercedes-Benz, Maybach and smart Passenger Car Division: "The fuel cell technology gives us the opportunity to bring mobility together with environmental compatibility and so make a major contribution to society. To enable the fuel cell to go on the market in the foreseeable future, most importantly the fuel and infrastructure issues must be clarified in a worldwide initiative, jointly with the political community, the mineral oil industry and the energy sector. But development engineers, too, still face numerous challenges, referring mainly to the further reduction of weight and cost and the improvement of reliability and durability. In this field, manufacturers should cooperate more intensively so as to promote the breakthrough of this key technology."

30 Mercedes-Benz Citaro city buses with fuel cell drive to operate in ten major European cities as of 2003 At the same time, DaimlerChrysler presents the first unit with serial number "zero" from the European fuel cell bus fleet. From 2003, 30 city buses based on the Mercedes-Benz Citaro will be operated in ten major European cities: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Porto, Reykjavik, Stockholm and Stuttgart. These buses will have to prove their mettle in demanding daily line service, in the cold of the Nordic winter and the heat of the Spanish summer, in flatlands and in hilly regions like Stuttgart. Several thousand passengers a day in Europe will in future directly experience this innovative and clean drive system. And a great many more people will benefit from these vehicles as residents or road users in inner-city traffic.

The comment of DaimlerChrysler Board member Dr. Eckhard Cordes, in charge of commercial vehicle business: "Urban bus transport is the ideal field for practically testing the fuel cell as a vehicle propulsion system. I take pride in the fact that we have managed to develop the world's first production vehicle featuring a fuel cell drive, on the basis of the Mercedes-Benz Citaro."

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: first van with fuel cell system runs field test, Hermes Sprinter One year ago, DaimlerChrysler launched a cooperative venture with the Hamburg-based Hermes delivery service to test a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with fuel cell drive in the customer's everyday operations. After more than 16,000 kilometers, the experience gained exceeds the expectations of both engineers and customer. The simple, convenient operation and dynamic start-off characteristics have proved to be particularly convincing. Precisely in urban traffic and stop-and-go delivery work, these qualities engender an excellent overall impression.

Dr. Wolfgang Fürwentsches, Managing Director of Hermes Versand Service, comments on the experience gained to date: "As operators of a 3,400 van fleet and as major customers of DaimlerChrysler, we gave the impetus to promote environment-friendly technologies in the commercial vehicle sector. The favorable experience with the Mercedes-Benz fuel cell Sprinter confirms our view that this propulsion technology is the most viable concept for the future."

Brief Biography

Ferdinand Panik Head of Fuel-Cell Project, DaimlerChrysler

Among DaimlerChrysler's executives, few stand out as being obsessed with the environment. But Ferdinand Panik, a trim, 58-year-old engineer, is an exception. Having worked seven years for Mercedes-Benz in the crowded Brazilian city of São Paulo, he's convinced that the auto industry must clean up its act. "If we don't do something about energy use and traffic" in developing markets such as Brazil, "we'll create a big problem for them--and for the world," he says.

Panik has found his niche as head of Daimler's $1 billion fuel-cell car project, the most advanced effort in ecologically clean autos anywhere. In 1997, when DaimlerChrysler (DCX ) became the first company to announce plans to turn its research project into a commercially viable business, Panik was put in charge. Trained as an electrical engineer, he had worked in Brazil in truck and bus development, and for 16 years in Daimler's vehicle research department in Stuttgart, becoming its director in 1983.

Despite technological challenges, Panik is optimistic about being able to produce fuel-cell autos economically. "It's almost within our grasp," he says. Fuel-cell cars convert hydrogen-rich fuel into electricity to power the engine--but now cost eight times more than regular cars to build.

Panik is excited about DaimlerChrysler's new Necar 5, which squeezes fuel-cell equipment into the floorpan of an A-Class Mercedes. He plans to have a fuel-cell model on the market by 2004--a goal that has spurred such rivals as Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ) to scramble to catch up. By 2010, Panik expects to be making fuel-cell cars for little more than gasoline-powered cars cost. Maybe clean cars and profits can go together after all.

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_24/b3736609.htm