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IE CEO Henri Winand (left) presents Suzuki Chairman Osamu Suzuki with a commemorative plaque marking the formation of Smile (Photo: IE)

Suzuki and Britain's Intelligent Energy Holdings will jointly develop an air-cooled fuel cell system that willbe able to power a future vehicle.

The two companies have formed a 50-50 joint venture called Smile FC System Corporation that will develop and manufacture the system together with an Intelligent Energy subsidiary. Smile willbe run by Osamu Honda, a Suzuki executive vice president.

The Japanese carmaker, which so far has mostly concentrated on building small, traditionally powered cars, has for several years cooperated with IE in the development of fuel-cell equipped motorcycles and scooters. In 2011, they gained whole vehicle type approval in Europe for their Burgman Fuel Cell scooter.

Suzuki said the new joint venture will speed-up the commercialization of the technology by combining the fuel cell development technology of IE with the control and mass-production technologies of Suzuki.

"I believe that we can accelerate the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles through this joint venture with Intelligent Energy,” Suzuki's Honda said in a press release.

Smile will be based at Suzuki headquarters in Hamamatsu, Japan. The joint venture's research facility will be located at Suzuki's Yokohama Laboratory.

IE, a UK-based global clean energy systems company, said the agreement with Suzuki marks a win-win situation for both companies. Suzuki will get cost-effective access to IE's advanced fuel cell technology, thereby avoiding higher costs. IE will benefit from Suzuki's production expertise and its access to the Japanese supply chain.

IE CEO Henri Winand said the joint venture "will accelerate the deployment, long term scalability and applicability of fuel cells for the next generation of eco cars, and other market segments."

He stressed that the agreement with Suzuki is non-exclusive.

Suzuki is a relative late-comer in the race to bring to market vehicles that aren't powered by traditional gasoline or diesel engines. But the carmaker announced recently that it plans to show a range-extended electric version of its best-selling Swift model at next month's Geneva auto show.

In addition, the small-car specialist will unveil an experimental model - the G70, which will weigh just 730 kilos and have CO2 emissions of 70 grams/km.

-Arjen Bongard