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GM sets 2015 fuel cell production target

Step closer: Chevrolet's Equinox has been a rolling test-bed fro GM's fuel-cell powertrain in real-world conditions.

General Motors aims for commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell cars by mid-decade

23 Mar 2010

GENERAL Motors claims to be on track to begin commercial production of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by 2015, announcing last week that it is testing a ‘production-intent’ system that can be packaged under the bonnet in the same space as a traditional four-cylinder engine.

The system is said to be half the size, about 100kg lighter and uses about a third less platinum than the Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV), a prototype GM has been testing in the Project Driveway demonstration and evaluation program since late 2007.

The lighter weight and compact dimensions will enable the US auto giant – which has invested more than $US1.5 billion ($A1.6b) into hydrogen fuel cell technology – to package the zero-emissions powertrain into any number of vehicles, from compact hatches to small and large sedans and crossover vehicles.

The system is expected to be used initially in medium to large vehicles, with smaller models likely to come on stream toward the end of the decade.

GM said it had simplified hardware mechanisation to achieve the smaller system packaging, which in turn will enable it to “reduce cost, simplify manufacturing and improve durability”.

 center imageLeft: General Motors' second-generation fuel cell.

GoAuto drove the Equinox FCEV SUV in January 2008 and discovered that GM’s first-generation fuel-cell propulsion system – using its fourth-generation fuel-cell stack – felt close for production.

The Equinox FCEV was also designed to meet or exceed all applicable US federal vehicle safety standards – including hydrogen storage and operation.

A significant sticking point remains the lack of a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in the US and elsewhere – a problem GM has attempted to confront with the claim that just $US200 million ($A219m) is all that is needed by each US city to provide hydrogen dispensers at 3.6km intervals.

As GoAuto has reported, in the longer-term GM has estimated that $US15 billion ($A16.4b) would be required to service the first million FCEVs in the top 100 urban areas in the US. This would cover more than 200,000km of highway.

Some 120 prototype Equinox FCEVs have been in service in the US, driven largely by government agencies and celebrities, in what has been described as the world’s largest automotive fuel-cell market test.

Project Driveway is now being wound down, but according to the executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Activities, Charles Freese, the vehicles in the program have been “very important” in providing the basis for the new-generation system.

“Our learning from Project Driveway has been tremendous and these vehicles have been very important to our program,” Mr Freese said last week.

“The 30 months we committed to the demonstration are winding down, but we will keep upgrades of these vehicles running and will continue learning from them while we focus efforts on the production-intent program for 2015.

“Some of the 119 fuel cell electric vehicles in Project Driveway will receive hardware and software upgrades and will become part of a technology demonstration program with the US department of energy.

“Others will be driven by businesses and a few will be used to continue showing that, with proper fuelling infrastructure, hydrogen fuel cells are a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.

“We will continue to use the Project Driveway fleet strategically to advance fuel-cell technology, hydrogen infrastructure, and GM's vehicle electrification goals.”

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