Stellantis, the world’s fifth largest automaker, has acquired a 33.3% stake in fuel-cell supplier Symbio for an undisclosed amount in order to “bolster our leadership position in hydrogen-powered vehicles”.­

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Symbio — a joint venture between tyre giant Michelin and car parts supplier Faurecia, both of which will retain 33.3% stakes in the company — is building a fuel-cell gigafactory in Lyon which is due to begin production by the end of this year.

Once fully commissioned in 2025, the plant will be capable of manufacturing 50,000 fuel cells annually.

Symbio has said it will invest €1bn ($1.09bn) to increase its total fuel-cell production in France to 100,000 units per year by 2028 — which includes an undisclosed amount of funding from the French government after the EU classed the investment as an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI).

Stellantis had already tapped Symbio to supply fuel cells for its hydrogen-powered vehicles, with light-duty commercial vehicles a particular focus. The Netherlands-based auto giant expects to produce up to 10,000 hydrogen-powered vans by 2024.

“Acquiring an equal stake in Symbio will bolster our leadership position in hydrogen-powered vehicles by supporting our fuel cell van production in France, and it also serves as a perfect complement to our growing battery electric vehicle portfolio,” says Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares.

The automaker already plans to offer 75 battery-electric vehicles, with sales reaching five million units by 2030.

It also claims its fuel-cell propulsion system can be integrated into existing battery-powered van designs to extend driving range. However, while Stellantis claims its fuel-cell vehicles have a range of more than 400km, this has not yet been certified.

Stellantis, which owns car brands including Jeep, Chrysler, Fiat, Peugeot, Opel and Citroen, aims for net-zero emissions by 2038, including from its vehicles. However, the firm expects it will still have to rely on offsets by that year — albeit a “single digit percentage compensation” — to meet the target.

The investment in Symbio is still subject to regulatory approval, but Stellantis expects to close the deal in the third quarter of this year.