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GM Launches Project Driveway, Largest Market Test of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Yet

16 October 2007

The 2007 Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle.

GM has launched Project Driveway—the first large-scale consumer market test of fuel cell electric vehicles anywhere. (Earlier post.) Under Project Driveway, GM will temporarily deploy more than 100 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicles among selected customers in suburban Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

A variety of drivers—from regular families to celebrities—will have free use of an Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle and the hydrogen fuel it needs to make electricity onboard. The average family will get one of the vehicles for three months and be required to report their experience to Chevrolet.

Project Driveway is not focused on testing the technology; the Equinox uses GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell system, while the company has already moved on to a fifth generation to be applied in the fuel-cell variant of the Volt, for example. The technology in the Equinox is already four-years old, given the development and production cycles.

Rather, according to Byron McCormick, Executive Director GM Global Fuel Cell Activities, the project is designed to help GM understand customer reaction to the vehicle: its handling, overall performance, customer confidence, reaction to refueling, speed, capacity, audible cues (such as the whine of the electric motor on deceleration), braking feel and response, and so on.

Intellectually, it [the fuel cell electric vehicle] may be a great story, but if the customers don’t buy it, it doesn’t matter. Project Driveway is designed to learn what makes a difference—how fast the air conditioning comes on, how the braking feels, sounds, etc. If you look at the risks our industry is facing, it’s worth spending the money to find out if consumers care about these things.

—Byron McCormick

GM will apply what it learns to the advancement of both of its series of electric drive vehicles—fuel cell electric vehicles, as well as range-extended battery electric vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Volt with GM’s E-Flex system. (Earlier post.)

These two families of electric vehicles mark the “cut line on petroleum” and are the “paradigm buster”, according to McCormick—the development pathway that leads to displacing petroleum in transportation.

The two technology variants of electric drive “complement each other, they’re not mutually exclusive,” McCormick said in a presentation for the kick-off of Project Driveway.

We don’t see it as a win/lose. With E-Flex, we’ll take the batteries as far as they will take us. For people who are doing commutes of 40 miles or less—about 50% of drivers—battery technology looks like it will have good promise. Hydrogen gives you a full-performance vehicle with a long driving range and a short refueling time.

—Byron McCormick

Taxonomically, GM is drawing a distinction between plug-in hybrids and range-extended electric vehicles that plug-in. The plug-in hybrid label thus is assigned to the coming version of the Saturn Vue Green Line two-mode hybrid—a mixed mechanical and electric drive vehicle with a large, grid-chargeable battery pack. The range-extended electric vehicle—as represented by the Volt and the E-Flex architecture, for example—uses only an electric drive. Although the vehicles can plug in (the Volt is a series hybrid with a small combustion engine as the range extender for a large li-ion pack that is also grid-chargeable), GM is emphasizing the electric drive, rather than focusing on the multiple sources of electricity as defining a “hybrid.”

The Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. The Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle is equipped with a GM fourth-generation, 93 kW fuel cell stack. A 35 kW NiMH battery pack (about 1.8 kWh) provides energy storage for regenerative braking. These power a front-wheel drive, 3-phase, 73 kW continuous, 94 kW maximum asynchronous electric motor that delivers 236 lb-ft (320 Nm) of instant torque and a top speed of about 100 miles per hour.

The instrument panel features a power indicator (right) rather than a tachometer to show the power being delivered to the system in kW. The green numbers below the 0 indicate regen power. Click to enlarge.

Three 700 bar compressed hydrogen storage tanks store 4.2 kg of hydrogen—enough for a range of approximately 150 miles under the new 2008 EPA adjusted measurement. GM managed to fit the tanks without disrupting the passenger cabin space, and with only a slight penalty in the cargo area. The mid-sized crossover seats four, and offers 32 cubic feet of cargo volume.

Instead of a tachometer, a power indicator is integrated into the instrument panel to show the actual power being delivered to the system in kilowatts (kW).

In order to prepare for the market test, GM worked with first responders in the Project Driveway test areas to detail vehicle specifics in the event of an emergency, and program participants will be trained in safe fueling practices.

Major systems of the Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle are designed to shut down in the event of a crash. Because it uses a high-voltage system, similar to hybrid vehicles, only trained personnel should work on the vehicle. A guide for emergency personnel shows where key fuel cell components are located, and gives step-by-step directions on disabling the electrical system.

Seven sensors located in the vehicle alert the driver in the event of a hydrogen leak. In the event potentially unsafe levels are detected, the system will alert the driver with a blinking icon, an audible beep and a message on the driver information panel.

October 16, 2007 in Electric (Battery), Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (132) | TrackBack (0)


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Very smart way to approach this--good thinking in getting real world feed back on these vehicles. Maybe this sort of thing wouldn't be a bad idea for the Volt either? (hint hint). I would volunteer---anybody else?

How nice of the US taxpayer to fund GM's general-purpose market research into how well customers like its brakes etc. All in the name of the holy grail of hydrogen, which is as expensive to produce and distribute as ever.

Nice to see GM getting fuel cells closer to real customers, but they aren't kidding that this test isn't about the technology. It looks like its about the publicity, a recurring theme with GM lately: get back on top in the green image department. I suspect most customers will complain about the 150 mile range of this giant SUV which cannot be refueled or recharged at home. Fuel cells? Good luck with that. Let us know how it turns out for you...

Are they going to do this with something that's not an SUV? A fuel cell vehicle would be great, but I wouldn't be able to find a parking spot for something the size of an Equinox.

Some of you think an Equinox is huge??? You are kidding, right?

At any rate, Honda is already performing a similar program with a family in California that drives a Honda Fuel Cell car as a daily driver to give them feedback data. In their case, that is only one family and one car being tested in one area of the U.S. GM has a much broader test program here.

At the low number that the Equinox is produced, its body might as well be made from the ultra-light weight carbon-fiber composite like the new concept Prius. This will double the range that it can travel for a given amount of fuel, to 300 miles, and will halve the cost of fuel AND the cost of the FC stack, and drive train and battery, in the case that H2 and FC components are still expensive right now. The cost of the carbon fiber body will be compensated for the reduction in cost of FC stack and all drive train components that they can be halved in size, and the lower cost of fuel for the life of the vehicle.

GM pioneered in carbon fiber car construction in their ultra-light concept ~15-20 years ago that was capable of 100 mpg. Perhaps now is the time to benefit from past GM's green efforts.

If and when carbon-fiber car body will become practical, hence doubling the range and halving the cost of the fuel, most concerns about hydrogen's cost, weight, space required, and range will be moot.

Let's welcome the Project Driveway, leading to real life testing of THE 21th century mobility technology from the worlds 2nd automaker.

Light components and the batteries are also welcome, but the disruptive innovation is the fuel cell, while hydrogen act as a bridge to renewable energy system (saving land and water from biocrops too).

Not to forget, (for all the folks preaching the all-electric option) fuel cell vehicles do are plug-in vehicles, the difference is made by the prime mover, no loncer an internal combustion engine, but an electrochemical one.

City driving, where ICE performs a 10% efficiency, will benefit the most, as well as historical cities in Europe.

90$/barrel oil now matches higher per-kg H2 costs. Logical outcome: mobility is about to change heavily; rail-based public transportation and non motorized (bicycles), ligh electric urban one will make the post-peak and the Kyoto protocol era smoother.

About as meaningless as Chrysler testing the turbine cars over 40 years ago.

I like the elimination of a tach and instead a meter showing how many kW are being used. Then you could drive down the highway with windows open or a/c on and see what the actual difference coule put a "nose bra" on your vehicle and immediately find out how detrimental to aerodynamics it is. You would have instant feedback of how much of an impact removing the roof rack makes in power consumption when driving on the highway.

==Hydrogen gives you a full-performance vehicle with a long driving range and a short refueling time.==

One of the lies forth by hydrogen pushers is that electric cars can't have good performance, and can't be recharged just as quickly as a hydrogen vehicle.

What a load of bull.

One of the lies forth by hydrogen pushers is that electric cars can't have good performance, and can't be recharged just as quickly as a hydrogen vehicle.

Which electric car gets recharged to full capacity in 5 minutes? Oh right - ones on paper.

I know exactly what you mean about those idiotic pushers of Hydrogen---what a bunch of morons. Everyone who's Anyone knows that Horse poop is the future of transportation propulsion! Don't knock it until you try it people.

The project's very name is only too revealing. "Project Driveway", so named, will surely emphasize the competitive profitability of maintaining the automobile's severe impediment upon other modes of urban/suburban travel, its competition, safe walking and bicycling, and practical mass transit. The automobile is a transportation monopoly and thus a constitutional inequity.

I will continue to argue that automobile-related business interests view hydrogen is a proprietary fuel best suited to maintain the status quo, the worsening rush hour traffic gridlock, a bedlam of maniacal or otherwise clueless motorists terrorizing neighborhoods and commercial districts with life-threatening masses of moving vehicles.

The automobile has too long, wrongfully been a means of directing urban/suburban growth that effectively disempowers local and regional economies, making them subservient to the corporate global economy and the longest-distance shipping of all goods, no matter the gargantuan quantity of whatever fuels and energy that requires.

We don't need a better car as much as we need future urban development plans that significantly reduce dependence upon driving and long-distance transport. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technology does not have that potential. It is technically impractical and inapplicable to future energy structures most likely to be decentralized.

Wonder if the bicycle was hydrogen powered? Would that be a better idea?

Why are so many here so down on Hydrogen? I can never understand that.

About as meaningless as Chrysler testing the turbine cars over 40 years ago.

I think this is a lot like the Ford Nucleon concept car. You only have to "Filler Up" once.

Why are so many here so down on Hydrogen? I can never understand that.

Single-minded adherents to any given "great solution" tend to congregate over time and drown out competing ideas. Unfortunately, this used to be a space where diversity of approaches was seen as a strength and now has become more and more a pro-nuclear/pro-EV chanting circle.

"Why are so many here so down on Hydrogen? I can never understand that."

I don't think anyone dislikes hydrogen. But H2 would be the most complete change among the many initiatives for new fuels, vehicles, production methods, and energy distribution. There are simply a lot of technical and economic problems with H2 now.

(Mostly economic since an unlimited amount of money can bring change very quickly. Unlimited funding is seldom available on this planet).

At this site you encounter people looking twenty years ahead and many more focused on what to do now. I suspect any scoffers are more interested in how to improve matters for the next decade.

I've seen some utter loathing of the idea of Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles on this site and others. Some people just plain think anyone who even mentions the word Hydrogen should be tarred and feathered for their own ignorance. How dare you blaspheme with that dirty word!!? I could see the hatred if this was a pro big oil/destruction of the world kind of website, but it's GREEN Car Congress. Gee whiz, how can you get more GREEN than Hydrogen?

Gee whiz, how can you get more GREEN than Hydrogen?

Uh oh. Here comes the torrent of abuse. Take cover, Schmeltz.

Had Mr Schmeltz and Jack given my earlier post some thought, they might have concluded that I am not so much down on hydrogen as down on automobile dependency. In the ill fated year 2001, the republican controlled US government eliminated in hybrid vehicle R&D despite overwhelming evidence that hybrids have more potential than hydrogen for both scientific advance and market applicability.

I conclude that Plug-in hybrid vehicle technology has more potential than hydrogen fuel cell in every way. Indeed, the electricity required to produce hydrogen is more likely to further development of nuclear power.

I beg to differ, Jack, hydrogen fuel limits a diversity of choices. And does Mr Schmeltz not know that a bicycle requires no fuel? I have tried to broaden the debate, but once again, single-minded adherents of hydrogen technology have muddied the waters.

"Single minded adherent of Hydrogen"---oh well, I've been called worse. :)

Had Mr Schmeltz and Jack given my earlier post some thought

I wasn't responding to your comments.

I beg to differ, Jack, hydrogen fuel limits a diversity of choices.

So if there are hydrogen stations or if I can create hydrogen at home this makes my electricity connection to my utility disappear? The only things that hydrogen stations might possibly displace are fossil fuel stations. Does diesel fuel availability limit gasoline availability? Have E85 pumps limited the availability of gasoline and diesel? Have any of them limited the availability of electricity?

"Single minded adherent of Hydrogen"---oh well, I've been called worse. :)

Schmeltz, have you ever encountered this mythical creature known as the "single minded adherent of hydrogen"? I've never spotted such a thing in all my days.

muddied the waters

Yes, without people talking about the pros and cons of various of technologies and their paths things would be crystal clear.

I would continue to comment, but I fear that I would further muddy the waters with this mindless Hydrogen drivvle. We should really make way for REAL ideas such Razor foot scooters for everyone!

I would continue to comment, but I fear that I would further muddy the waters with this mindless Hydrogen drivvle. We should really make way for REAL ideas such Razor foot scooters for everyone!

Dude, like what I want is like a sustainably harvested algae biodiesel plug-in hybrid with optional full EV conversion that jacks into clean and inexpensive and non-toxic nuclear energy (which of course is redundant!). The batteries will recharge completely before you even put in the plug and it will get 10 zillion mpg and be 110% carbon-negative. How's that for clear thinking?

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