Joachim Ladra: “Prepared for the fuel cell ramp-up”

The joint venture between Daimler Truck and Volvo Group is positioning itself as a supplier of fuel cell technology – globally and beyond mobility. At hy-fcell, the company is focusing on dialog with the growing ecosystem of the hydrogen economy. In conversation: Joachim Ladra, Head of Sales, Marketing and Communication at cellcentric.


How does cellcentric position itself as a subsidiary of two OEMs in the fuel cell value chain?

We are positioned as a Tier 1 supplier for fuel cell technology. This means that we support our customers as suppliers. In the case of Daimler and the Volvo Group, we support our shareholders in the commercialization and series production of the technology – but we are not limited to them, but also work with partners in other segments and other industries.

Do you currently feel “pushed” as a company by the German hydrogen strategy? 

cellcentric is convinced that fuel cell technology is an essential complement to battery electric drives in the commercial vehicle sector. And we are very pleased that the updated national hydrogen strategy takes this into account accordingly. Fuel cells score with their technological advantages wherever heavy loads, long distances or high flexibility requirements are involved. And we are very pleased to have political backing from the national hydrogen strategy.

Everyone is now talking about the ramp-up of fuel cell technology….

We are currently in a phase in which, for the first time in the development history of fuel cell technology, three factors are coming together. The market maturity of the technology as we bring it forward, the availability of the infrastructure and green hydrogen without which the technology cannot play to its strengths, and finally the political, legal and regulatory boundary conditions that make the use of this technology attractive from the customer’s perspective. With these three factors, all of which are necessary for hydrogen and fuel cell technology to play their part in decarbonization, we believe we are on a very, very good path.

Can you preserve the philosophy and culture of a start-up – from the approach to the markets, in the development? 

Yes, we like to call ourselves a start-up with thirty years of experience. On the one hand, due to the relatively young organization, which was founded in its current form only two years ago – but which at the same time can draw on the privilege of over thirty years of experience in fuel cell technology from Daimler. Patents, expertise, assets, employees – everything that Daimler has developed in the field of fuel cells has been given to us as a dowry on the way to our current setting as cellcentric. This puts us in a position to quickly bring a high degree of maturity and great attractiveness of the technology for end customers into series production applications.

You have always emphasized that you now want to bring together all elements of value creation here at the site. 

We have a very high level of in-house value creation. The fuel cell stack – the heart of the technology – is also an in-house component, with a large proportion of our own intellectual property and development work. As an organization, we bring together the development, the production and also the production technology we need to manufacture the fuel cell systems in order to bring the technology to series production. Here at our headquarters and development center in Kirchheim/Teck-Nabern, at our site in Esslingen-Pliensauvorstadt, where we trim the production processes for large-scale series production, at our site in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, and at our advanced engineering center in Vancouver, Canada. 

How will the site in Weilheim develop?

Today we have about 450 employees. This increase in personnel will continue over the next few years. When we start series production of our fuel cell technologies in a few years’ time, we will reach the limits of what we can cover with the space available here at the Nabern site and at the other production sites. That is why we are currently planning to build a new large-scale production facility in Weilheim, where we want to consolidate all the steps in our production process, all the steps in the value chain under one roof – with the shortest possible routes and the most concentrated and consolidated organizational forms possible. 


What opportunities will you offer universities, partners and suppliers in the region?

Our ecosystem is currently developing very promisingly and also very agilely. On the supplier side, we have, on the one hand, highly specialized companies from the fuel cell and hydrogen industries that are embarking on the road to industrialization in parallel with us. We are also very pleased to see more and more established suppliers from the automotive sector moving into the fuel cell technology field. This gives us a broader base of possible partnerships in the supply chain. On the other hand, if we look toward our customers, we are currently seeing an enormous amount of interest in fuel cell technology – across a wide range of applications and throughout the world. With our technology, we are now also in contact with partners far beyond the fields of application in the heavy commercial vehicle sector. With our research and development activities, we are active here in Baden-Württemberg in a region with many research and educational institutions. These are, of course, also an essential building block for us to jointly further develop technologies and, on the other hand, to develop the qualified personnel we need for this.

What role does hy-fcell play for you in the dialog with this ecosystem, with potential customers – in Stuttgart in September as well as in Vancouver and Shanghai?

Due to its history, hy-fcell is an established event in the industry and thus, for us, of course, also one of the essential building blocks in the hydrogen community’s calendar of events. For us, it is a platform for dialog with all the partners mentioned – from suppliers to potential customers and new customers for our systems to potential future employees. And, of course, for dialog about the political boundary conditions that will continue to play a decisive role in the success of our technology.

Are there any current impulses that you will give at the event now in September? 

In any case, we will be providing a much more detailed look at the new generation of our BZA 150 fuel cell system, which we are currently developing to production readiness. And at the event here in Nabern, we will also provide a brief insight into the testing and validation activities that we are currently running at full speed to ensure that the system is ready for series production.