August 26, 2008

GM to Offer Public Test Drive of its Hydrogen Cars

General Motors (GM) has announced a new initiative that plans to put consumers in the driver's seat of more than 100 fuel-cell vehicles before the end of the year.

Dubbed "Project Driveway", the project will focus on celebrities, policymakers, the military and other "influentials", but the public is also free to sign up online.

"We're going to get feedback from customers to help us understand this market, and that's going to help set us up, hopefully early in the next decade, to really go to market for real with fuel-cell electric vehicles," said Larry Burns, vice president of research and development and strategic planning for GM.

Based on the Chevrolet Equinox SUV, the vehicles will be tested in the US, Germany, South Korea, China and Japan. Each country was chosen because they already have the necessary refueling facilities in place.

Participants will be chosen based on their location in relation to refueling facilities.

The hydrogen is fed into a fuel cell onboard the vehicle to produce electricity, which powers an electric motor connected to the front wheels.

The exhaust is water vapor, which is vented through slots in the rear bumper rather than a conventional exhaust pipe.

"The car of the future will have a modular approach to the drivetrain," said Derek Charters from the British motor industry consultants Mira.

"The car will be able to be fitted with a number of power units. At the stage of buying the car, you will define your requirements by your lifestyle.

"You'll go into a dealership and tell them what you want to do, and they will then recommend what type of drivetrain to put in."

Currently, hybrid cars generate electricity using the engine or during braking by using the motor as a generator.
In the future we are likely to see cars with much higher capacity batteries, so they can be plugged in at home overnight.

"I think you're going see two or three companies introducing the plug-in hybrid by 2010," said Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress and previously responsible for clean transportation programs at the US Department of Energy.

"You take a hybrid, and you put on it a battery capable of taking an electric charge from the grid, and running for maybe 20 to 40 miles in all-electric mode before reverting to be a gasoline-powered vehicle - because most people don't travel more than 20 or 25 miles a day, and even less so in Europe than the United States.

"The opportunity is you could run most of the time on electricity, and only use gasoline on longer trips," he said.

"These cars, like all early model cars, will probably be on the expensive side, but I think there will be a great interest in them."


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