Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to build a hydrogen fuel cell plant in Burnaby, B.C., with the aim of developing its own line of cheaper and more efficient fuel cells for passenger vehicles.

When completed in 2012, the plant will first supply the company with fuel cell stacks for its small fleet of hydrogen powered vehicles. But Mercedes hopes to grow that fleet from about 200 to 10,000 in the next two to three years.

The company is also counting the Burnaby operation to find ways to bring down the cost of those cars to compete with hybrid, and gas powered vehicles. And by 2015, the company says it hopes to offer fuel cell cars  to the public.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was on hand for the announcement, saying the plant is a $50-million investment in the province's green economy.

"It's a day to celebrate the pioneering minds who dare to dream of cleaner, greener ways to create energy and to make fuel cell technology part of the everyday use for the cars and trucks and buses that are all around us," she said.

"Your investment in our province will contribute to a cleaner environment. It will create jobs, and those jobs will support hundreds of families," Clark told executives from Mercedes and its parent company Daimler.

No firm job numbers

But the company could not say how many people will actually work at the plant. Daimler Vice-President Herbert Kohler will only say he hopes to supply up to 10,000 vehicles two years from now.

"I am asking for understanding at the moment. It's not well decided, of course, what kind of capacity we will have in the years coming," said Kohler.

Gunter Walz, vice-president of planning international co-operations said the decision to build a new production facility under the aegis of Mercedes-Benz Canada was "the logical next step of Daimler's successful co-operation with partners in Vancouver."

The project builds on an existing joint venture also based in Burnaby called the Automotive Fuel Cell Co-operation. That venture between Mercedes-Benz's parent company German-based DaimlerBurnaby-based Ballard Power Systems and the Ford Motor Company  has been building fuel cells and fuel cell hybrid buses since 2008.