Outgoing Ballard CEO Dennis Campbell shared some observations with Canada’s Globe and Mail on the prospects for fuel-cell vehicles as he packed up to head home to the US.
Campbell stepped down as President and CEO of the hydrogen fuel-cell maker in October. His exit followed the sale of Ballard’s German subsidiary and the company’s restructuring, and was a reflection of the much slower than anticipated commercialization of fuel cell technology. (Earlier post.)
Campbell, recruited three and one-half years ago, came to the company at a time when “a lot of people thought we were right at the cusp, at the inflection point of the hockey stick.”
Faced with a countervailing reality, however, Campbell downsized the company, and then agreed with the Board to himself be “downsized”—a company still in a technology development stage doesn’t want to be paying a commercialization-stage CEO salary.
The main challenge for the company now is executing a technology road map. So, what’s important is not so much the CEO, but that we have a chief technology officer, Chris Guzy, whom I recruited from General Electric, and Charles Stone, who heads up research and development. These will be the key guys over the next five years.—Dennis Campbell
In terms of the development of the market for fuel cell vehicles, Campbell still remains bullish in the long term: “...fundamentally, energy prices will continue to rise. I don’t think much can go wrong.”
...[hybrids] will help accelerate [the commercialization of the fuel cell]. The architecture of the hybrid is the same as for the fuel cell. The only difference is that we take out the piston engine and put in the fuel cell. A lot of the core technologies needed to make fuel cells work are being developed today for hybrid applications. Also, it means the electrification of the automobile is becoming widely accepted. This is a fundamental transformation in the way cars are designed.
To be honest, the only thing that could change the game is if someone invented a battery that had a range of 400 miles and could be recharged in five minutes. You wouldn’t need a fuel cell. But people have been working on that for years, and while battery technology is improving, it’s not going to happen.
However, increasing efficiency of combustion engines combined with more aggressive hybrid architectures and batteries of increasing capability—i.e, a plug-in hybrid—could very well extend the economic viability of that platform well past the time threshold hoped for by the fuel-cell planners.
(A hat-tip to MetroMPG!)