General Motors has been “playing” with hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles since the 1960s. The company’s vintage Electrovan ran—barely—on one massive fuel cell. Thirty-five years later, GM was still at it when it introduced its unique fuel cell architecture that encased the powertrain and energy storage equipment into a thin horizontal layer—dubbed a “skateboard.” This was supposed to signal a possible new approach to engine layout and placement. But GM was forced back to earth when it came time to putting real high-tech rubber on the road. The company left much of its lofty designs in the lab—and created a 100-strong fleet of Chevy Equinox SUVs that run on hydrogen.
This relatively large number of vehicles vaulted GM to the lead in fuel cell vehicles on the road, surpassing Daimler with its 60 F-cells and 30 Citaro buses, and Ford with its 30 Focus FCVs, and Honda with its limited leases of the FCX Clarity—fewer than 10 in the first two months of 2009.
GM chose the Chevroloet Equinox—a car-based SUV or crossover first introduced in 2005 and updated in 2007—as the platform for its first volume run of FCVs. It provides the interior room for four people and enough space to stash the three hydrogen tanks holding the equivalent of 4.2 gallons of gasoline. This provides the vehicle with 160 miles of range—if filled at 10,000 psi. The Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell delivers similar performance to the gasoline version in terms of acceleration, braking and daily driving. The only novelty is that the vehicle runs on hydrogen; and efficiency gets a bump to the equivalent of 43 mpg on hydrogen, about twice that of the gas version.
Almost all manufacturers have active fuel cell/hydrogen programs, but most have vehicle populations in the teens at the most.