STUTTGART, Germany – As global automakers seek to improve the range and reduce the charging times of battery-electric vehicles, we’ve been hearing more and more about the potential of fuel cells.

But despite efforts to establish a global hydrogen fueling infrastructure, their complex nature and high production costs mean they appear destined to remain a fringe solution as a potential power source for road cars in the foreseeable future.

Yet this hasn’t deterred a growing number of automakers from pouring vast amounts of money into the development of hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which can provide a car with range commensurate with conventional gasoline-engine models while emitting nothing but water in the form of steam. The latest example is the new Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell, joining a limited number of hydrogen-fueled road cars to reach production maturity and be offered to the public.

The advanced new SUV is the result of a development program at the German automaker that kicked off in 1994 with the unveiling of the commercial-vehicle-based NECA 1. Available for lease in selected countries, it was followed by the B-Class F-Cell, of which some 200 examples were produced between 2011 and 2017 in what is described as the largest fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles yet established for testing purposes.

The GLC F-Cell takes HFCVs to a new level, leapfrogging the efforts of Toyota with the 2-year-old Mirai, which until now has proved the benchmark in the class. Mercedes’ secret weapon is a fuel-cell stack that not only is 25% lighter and 30% more compact but also offers 40% greater power while using 90% less platinum than the unit employed in its predecessor.

The stack sits on the same engine mounts as more conventional gasoline and diesel engines in the new Mercedes-Benz SUV, producing electricity from a combination of hydrogen and oxygen that is sent to a battery to power an electric motor mounted within the rear axle, driving the rear wheels.

The only outward signs of the advanced powertrain technology are some blue highlights within the grille and sills together with unique alloy wheels and F-Cell badges at the rear. Otherwise, it looks like any other first-generation GLC SUV.

Along with its newly developed fuel-cell stack, the GLC F-Cell accommodates two carbon-fiber hydrogen tanks – one mounted within the center tunnel and the other underneath the rear seat, each pressurized to 10,153 psi (700 bar). This permits a refueling time similar to that of gasoline and diesel versions of the SUV in less than three minutes. With 4.4 kg (9.7 lbs.) of hydrogen on board, it promises to deliver a range of up to 438 km (272 miles).