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DaimlerChrysler unveils car of future
Firm racing to get NECAR 4 on the market by 2004

SHARE DaimlerChrysler unveils car of future
Firm racing to get NECAR 4 on the market by 2004

WASHINGTON -- DaimlerChrysler has built a compact car powered by fuel cells that seats five people, goes 280 miles before refueling and travels as fast as 90 miles per hour.

The concept car, called NECAR 4, is the latest demonstration of progress on fuel cell cars that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity to power the vehicle. The world's automakers are racing to bring such cars to market by 2004.The car was formally unveiled today by DaimlerChrysler chairmen Robert Eaton and Juergen Schrempp at a news conference attended by Environmental Protection Agency officials at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.

"This is the next step in a very long journey," Eaton said after driving the car. "Our challenge is to provide more Earth-friendly vehicles without penalty of cost of convenience" to customers.

The NECAR 4 is based on the Mercedes-Benz A-class compact car sold in Europe.

"This is a real step forward," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "This car leaves a trail of water vapor, not clouds of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other pollutants."

Other fuel cell cars have zero or near-zero emissions, depending on their fuel source. That makes fuel cells a favorite among automakers trying to comply with California's standard of zero emissions by 2003 for 10 percent of the cars sold in the state.

"Fuel cells have the potential to be the most attractive alternative propulsion system for the long term," said Schrempp.

But the demise of gas-powered cars is not imminent. NECAR 4 is powered by liquid hydrogen, an impractical fuel for mass marketing since it must be kept at extremely cold temperatures.

DaimlerChrysler officials said the concept car will be followed by NECAR X, which will run on methanol. Methanol contains hydrogen and is the auto industry's favored fuel to power fuel cells.

Nationwide use of methanol-powered fuel cells would require a network of methanol pumping stations.

DaimlerChrysler's Ferdinand Panik said NECAR 4 was a major breakthrough because the fuel cell technology was small enough to fit in a compact car. The fuel cells were stacked underneath the car's floorboard and the liquid hydrogen tank took up some space in its small trunk.

But DaimlerChrysler engineers say there is still a lot of work to be done before next year, when they aim to develop a fleet of demo cars based on NECAR X.