Dearborn, Michigan – The Ford Motor Company and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have reached an agreement to extend a three-year-old hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle program for up to 24 months, until the next-generation system is ready for deployment around 2010. The company said that the fleet of 30 Focus Fuel Cell test vehicles has exceeded expectations of the company’s hydrogen research engineers, by accumulating more than 865,000 real-world miles (1,392,083 km) without significant maintenance issues since the fleet’s launch three years ago.

Ford launched the fleet in 2005, after unveiling a prototype in late 2003. Its Focus Fuel Cell fleet partners include a variety of government agencies in California, Florida, Michigan, Canada, Germany and Iceland, where cold climate testing is expected to result in significant performance improvements on the next generation.

According to Ford’s global fuel cell team, the first-generation vehicles have lasted three times longer and worked much better than originally expected, with virtually no degradation in performance. In light of the success, the DOE, which shares the program’s operating cost with the automaker, agreed to extend the program.

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