|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.