Let the race away from gas continue! General Motors Co. is now 1 million miles into its fuel cell experiment and company officials say having everyday people drive a test fleet of pollution-free cars has convinced them they are on the right track.
The automaker said it passed the 1 million-miles this week-driven mark in its fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox vehicles, with about 5,000 people rotating in and out of more than 100 cars over the past 25 months. This is extremely good news. Fuel cells are reliable, possess amazing longevity and now proven it without any question—one million miles was a highly desired round number. And it’s now here.
“They’ll tell you that after the first week, they pretty much forget it’s a fuel cell car, which indicates to us that we have accomplished our goal of making the fuel cell transparent to the consumer,” said Daniel O’Connell, director of fuel cell commercialization at GM’s research and development offices in Honeoye Falls, near Rochester.
“They get in the car and drive it like they’ve always driven their cars, and that really tells me that fuel cells are closer than most people would believe,” he said.
Supporters see the fuel cell becoming a mainstream, eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-powered cars within the next decade. Powered by electricity, generated by a reaction between oxygen and hydrogen, the only emissions are wisps of water vapor.
“You put your hand over the exhaust pipe and the only thing coming out is water. That was such a cool feeling,” said Mike Schwabl, a marketing executive who drove an Equinox for 10 days in western New York earlier this year. Other drivers tried cars in Washington, D.C., and southern California.
The cars look and handle like any other car, Schwabl said. “I would love to drive one of these vehicles (permanently).”
But numerous obstacles remain for GM and its competitors in the fuel cell race. Toyota Motor Corp. introduced a car powered by hydrogen and electricity last year and will introduce an improved hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2015. Daimler AG has spent nearly $2 billion and plans to spend another $700 million by 2011 for the commercial production of fuel cell vehicles, while Honda has leased a small number of FCX Clarity vehicles in California to assess hydrogen’s future.