Much discussed and even disputed, the hydrogen car has found its worshiper… Patrick Koller, CEO of Forvia (the new structure resulting from Faurecia’s takeover of Hella), did not mince words to say it all, although he thought on this technology. For him, Symbio – a company specializing in fuel cells, founded in 2010 by Fabio Ferrari, where Michelin entered the capital in 2014 before turning it into a joint venture with Faurecia in 2019 – is “a jewel, a diamond to keep”.
For Patrick Koller, the hydrogen car will compensate for the shortcomings of the battery-powered electric car. According to him they are of two kinds. The first is a question of sovereignty in relation to metal supplies. “We will go from being dependent on oil to an even stronger dependence on the metals of electrification »he answered journalists during the presentation of Forvia’s half-year results. “90% of metal refining takes place in China. »he added. “While we only need platinum that can be recycled from catalysts » to make fuel cells.
France is recognized for its mastery of the entire hydrogen technology value chain. On the automotive side, the sector thus produces tanks (an essential and very expensive element to withstand the pressure), pressure relief valves and the fuel cell. Symbio has also just inaugurated a factory near Lyon, which should make it possible to increase the production of fuel cells on a large scale in order to lower their unit price. The French hydrogen industry also includes hydrogen producers such as Air Liquide, but also EDF and Engie, which are investing heavily in green hydrogen production capacity. Finally, one start-up, Hopium, even aims to produce highly advanced hydrogen cars to complete an almost sovereign value chain. Furthermore, Forvia is not the only group interested in hydrogen in the automotive industry, as Plastic Omnium is also in this niche.
For Patrick Koller, there is another big problem with the hydrogen car. According to him, this technology effectively solves the infrastructural problem posed by the electric battery. Motorway areas must be massively equipped with rapid charging stations, up to 80 per gas station according to him. But the cost of this infrastructure will not be borne by any economic model. “The investments required on the main axes are colossal to meet the needs of a few days a year. », says Patrick Kohler.
Hydrogen will soon be cheaper than the battery
Speaking of the economic model, the head of Forvia estimates that he will be able to offer a complete hydrogen drive chain for a 100 kWh car (high range of electric cars on the market at the moment) between 7,000 and 8,000 euros in 2030. “I don’t think battery technology will reach that price »he assessed.
Patrick Koller recalls that he is multiplying the contracts and that his order book for the hydrogen activity has now reached 500 million euros. The contract with Stellantis is an excellent opportunity for roadway, especially in light commercial vehicles in Europe, but above all in American pick-ups, the most profitable segment of the market.
For Patrick Koller, the potential in this market is colossal. He thinks about the best way to improve his “pearl » Symbio, especially through an IPO. The principle has not yet been decided.
A solution to decarbonise industry
Patrick Koller, who strongly believes in carbon-free mobility (but not in 2035 contrary to the commitment adopted by the EU), believes that hydrogen will be the right solution. However, he qualifies by insisting that the battery car has real arguments in many cases of use, especially purely urban mobility. But he goes further than questions of mobility and considers that hydrogen will provide an answer to industrial decarbonisation and will make it possible to store energy.
So far, however, the car market lacks models. Only Toyota, Honda and Hyundai marketed the first cars while waiting for the French Hopium. But for Patrick Koller, the first models will come eventually… Even Tesla will eventually get started, he believes…