GM, Daimler, Honda Betting on Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Posted: April 8, 2008

Car and Driver reports, “Fuel-cell vehicles -- where hydrogen is converted to electricity onboard and there are no emissions -- are real today and even more feasible tomorrow under a carefully scripted development plan at General Motors that culminates in as many as one million affordable FCVs by 2020.”  GM has nearly completed development on a fuel cell propulsion system “that has been reduced to half the size for half the materials, less weight, and less cost” that previous models.  “The next-gen fuel-cell stack will hit the road in a still-to-be-decided vehicle (we’re guessing a small car to show off the diminutive dimensions) in four years,” GM VP Larry Burns told C&D.  “Burns will only say that the vehicle sports an exciting design.”

Reuters reports, “General Motors Corp plans to have 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in California between 2012 to 2014 to comply with the state's goal to put thousands of cleaner cars on its roads.”  The automaker already has about 60 hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox SUVs on the road in southern California, and Burns recently told reporters, “The next logical play for us is to take that up to a car scale of about 1,000.”

Those fuel cell powered Equinoxes are part of “Project Driveway,” and effort “designed to get some real-world data on the performance of the hydrogen-powered vehicles – as well as to garner some publicity, since many of the motorists who’ll have the Equinox FCVs – for three months at a time – will be policy makers and celebrities,” according to The Car Connection. GM recently modified one of the vehicles to fit the needs of 6’9” former basketball star Magic Johnson.

Autoblog Green reports that GM’s Burns sees “mainstream acceptance and financial viability of hydrogen cars following in 2017 or 2018.”

All of GM’s green car efforts may ultimately point toward hydrogen.  In an interview with Design News, Charlie Freese, the engineer leading GM’s diesel efforts, argues that all green vehicle technologies will “start to dovetail together where one feeds into the other and provides the infrastructure that eventually builds into that next phase. So, this electrification of the vehicle is a basis that you need before you can make a hydrogen vehicle work.”

GM may not be alone in pursuing a fuel cell future.  Autoblog Green reports, “Daimler chairman Dieter ‘Dr. Z’ Zetsche believes that the technology for fuel cell vehicles is here today and that vehicles using the hydrogen-for-energy system will be available in five to eight years time.”

Honda is getting into the act, too.  Car and Driver adds, “Honda is ramping up for production of its FCX Clarity, the industry’s first dedicated fuel-cell vehicle for customer use. The automaker will begin assembly in May in Tochigi, Japan, and will build a small pool of vehicles available for lease in the U.S. this summer.  A still-secret number of consumers will be able to lease a Clarity fuel-cell vehicle for $600 a month for three years, which will include maintenance and insurance. The lessee must pay for the hydrogen, which costs about $5 per kilogram in compressed-gas form.”

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