GM Takes Lead with 100 Hydrogen Equinoxes

Equinox Fuel CellTim Powers, GM Western Regional Manager, revealed more details of the GM Project Driveway at the California Hydrogen Business Council meeting. GM will select at least 100 initial drivers of the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell from people applying to participate at GM Application

My past drives of the Equinox Fuel Cell demonstrated that it offered a smooth drive comparable to the gasoline Equinox, a roomy four-door crossover vehicle. Due to the added need for hydrogen fuel storage, it is a four-seater instead of five in the gasoline Equinox. Conventional gasoline vehicles emit about 20 pounds of greenhouse gases with every gallon burned. The Equinox Fuel Cell only emits water vapor.

Most drivers that GM will select will live in California within ten miles of 700 bar hydrogen stations located from San Diego to Burbank, California. They are likely to include everyone from Marines to Mouseketeers. GM will also select drivers in other parts of the U.S. including Metro New York and Washington D.C. and other countries including Germany, China, Korea, and Japan. Five different types of drivers will be selected by GM:

  • Media
  • Public policy makers
  • Celebrities and influentials
  • Mainstream drivers
  • Fleets

Most individuals will try the vehicle for three months. It is a free trail with GM covering the vehicle, insurance, maintenance, and fuel. Fleets will put the vehicles through more extensive 30 month tests. For example, Disney will be using ten for employee use in Southern California for 30 months. Fleets could also include universities, city government, military, taxis, and delivery. Over three years, 300 to 500 people are likely to try the vehicles for three months each.

One of the first drivers will be David Shelton a computer systems operator from Irvine. This will be his fourth electric vehicle. He tried General Motors’ EV1 in the late ’90s, experimented with a Ford Think City electric car and, since 2002, has owned a Toyota RAV4 EV. The Equinox Fuel Cell is an electric vehicle with an electric drive motor, no engine, nickel metal hydride batteries, and a hydrogen fuel cell which generates electricity.

GM is making a priority of customer support. At the heart of the support is OnStar. OnStar is GM’s in-vehicle safety and security system. OnStar’s innovative three-button system offers: 24-hour access to one of 6, and later 12, Equinox Fuel Cell Advisors; a connection to emergency assistance; and access to OnStar Hands-Free Calling. Each driver will have one person to deal with at GM, a driver relationship manager. All drivers will receive training. OnStar and the Advisor will recommend maintenance. Detailed data acquisition and analysis will help GM develop a knowledge base that will influence the roll-out of the next generation fuel cell vehicle.

Customer support will include three dedicated service hubs for vehicle prep, training, deliver, maintenance and vehicle return. The hubs are at Burbank, CA; Ardsley, NY; and at U.S. Army Ft. Belvoir, VA.

Three dealers will also be active in customer training and support. This will help GM prepare for large-scale sales and support of vehicles with electric drive systems. The initial dealers will be in California, New York, and Maryland.

Range is a challenge for all makers of electric vehicles. The Equinox Fuel Cell will typically deliver a range of 160 miles between hydrogen fueling, but only by using higher pressure 700 bar. This range estimate from GM is more conservative than earlier 200 mile announcements. In California, only the Irvine station currently offers the higher 700 bar pressure as well as 350 bar. All other stations offer only 350 bar. The Equinox Fuel Cell only has a range of about 80 miles when fueled at 350 bar. Another challenge is that a number of hydrogen stations are dedicated to one fleet and are not available to the public.

Over the next few years, range will greatly improve from drivers of fuel cell vehicles. Today, fuel cell buses with ten times the weight of the Equinox have ranges greater than 300 miles. With more hydrogen storage, more range is achieved. Toyota has demonstrated a range of 350 miles by using extra 700 bar storage. GM has demonstrated a range of 300 miles by using 8 kg of storage. Honda will achieve a 270 mile range with the new FCX Clarity using the lower pressure 350 bar. The Honda is a lighter four-passenger vehicle designed from the ground-up to be an electric fuel cell vehicle.

The Equinox Fuel Cell uses 35 kW of NiMH batteries in a mild-hybrid configuration. In other vehicles, such as the Volt, GM is testing new lithium batteries. In its next generation fuel cell vehicle, GM could achieve a range exceeding 300 miles by reducing vehicle weight, having a more battery-dominate full-hybrid design such as E-Flex, using its fifth generation fuel cell, and by switching to lithium batteries.

To accelerate the presence of higher pressure stations with public access, GM is spending millions to establish nine temporary 700 bar stations from Burbank to San Diego. At least three of the portable fueling stations will be provided by Quantum (QTWW). Hydrogen will be made by large-scale reformation of natural gas that is truck delivered.

A number of existing California hydrogen stations use zero-emission hydrogen production by using electrolysis powered by renewable energy, such as solar. Others, such as AC Transit and USMC Camp Pendleton, make hydrogen with on-site electrolysis of pipelined natural gas. AC Transit’s approach produces about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions of diesel alternatives by using solar power in the reformation and compression of hydrogen. Next year, pipelined byproduct hydrogen will be available at a Torrance station for less than the cost of gasoline. GM and other stations in development will increase California’s hydrogen infrastructure from 25 to 40 stations. In California, the number of hydrogen vehicles from all makers on the road is likely to double from over 150 today to over 300 in 2008, with GM leading the way.

Copyright © 2007-2008 John Addison. This article may be reproduced if it includes this copyright notice. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.