Mercedes-Benz announced this week that it has started production of the B-Class F-CELL, its first series-produced electric car with a fuel cell.

Initially, the firm plans to build 200 models which will be delivered to customers in Europe and the US from spring 2010. The B-Class is an evolution of the company's A-Class F-Cell, unveiled back in 2004 and currently in active service at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen.

Mercedes-Benz claims that the B-Class F-CELL will have a range of up to 400 kilometers (248 miles), with a 136 horsepower electric motor delivering performance comparable with that of a 2.0 litre gasoline car. Top speed will be 170 kph (105 mph). The vehicle will also be able to start at temperatures as low as -25°C (-77°F), traditionally an area of concern with fuel-cells, which use internal vapor at risk of solidifying below freezing point (0°C/32°F). The B-Class overcomes this by taking electrical energy from an on-board battery as it warms up in cold temperatures.

German car-maker Mercedes-Benz is the latest entrant to the fuel-cell market, which is only just beginning to move from theory to reality. Lack of a hydrogen infrastructure such as filling points is still a major issue for the fledgling industry, although several energy suppliers are believed to have plans for a network in the pipeline. Honda was the first manufacturer to bring a production fuel cell vehicle to market with the FCX Clarity which is currently for sale or lease in Los Angeles, US and Japan. Mercedes-Benz is also planning to offer the first B-Class models to select customers through a leasing program.

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