This afternoon in front of the Los Angeles Convention center, we had a little presentation of GM Project Driveway. No, It’s not a new reality show on Bravo. It’s GM Hydrogen Fuel Cell Program. The program will offer to regular driver, a chance to test drive an Hydrogen Chevrolet Equinox for 3 months, in exchange for feedback about the vehicle.
Today we had a chance to drive the car before the project starts in January 2008. The car selected to support this project is the Chevrolet Equinox. The modified Equinox looks almost stock, aside of special larger airvent in the front, featuring carbon fiber accent and a rear bumper also featuring carbon fiber and fancy custom exhaust pipe. Aside of the cosmetic details, every aspect of the new technology is hidden to the driver, in order to make the experience as seem less as possible. Again remember that those drivers will only have the car for 3 months, so a short learning curve is very important. Even the Tachometer is cleverly replaced by a Kilowatt meter that behave very similarly as a gas engine tach’.
For those new to the fuel cell technology, it consists in some sort of engine, in this case hydrogen, powering an electric motor, which itself drive the wheels. The hydrogen fuel is only a mean to produce electricity. Fuel Cell cars are electric cars but electricity is created on demand and on board. This technology is for example in place on cruise ship for a couple of years. All fuel on those ships is used to power electric engine connected to the propellers.
Because there is no gas engine, all the usually gas powered equipments had to be replaced by electric powered one. For example the AC and heating equipment is now working on battery. It is all benefit for the driver as you do not have to wait for your engine to warm up before you can have hot or cold air.
Let’s talk about our test drive. After a few hundred yards behind the wheel you realize immediately the beauty of electric vehicles. First there is no gear changes as the electric engine is directly connected to the wheels, while speed is regulated by the amount of energy (Kw) sent to the engine. Second, the electric engine feature +- 240 pounds of instantaneous torque. You feel as if you were driving a much more powerful car because you never have to wait for takeoffs. And last but not least it is totally noise free. You cannot hear the engine at all.
Even though there are still little glitches in the software the driving experience is very close to a regular gas engine. The car feels light and powerful. Even thought our Hydrogen Equinox is rated for a 0-60 in 12 seconds, the instantaneous torque make up for it, at least from 0 to 40. After that it gets bit slower. But from our drive in downtown L.A. it was very rewarding. And the feeling to drive a car that emits only water vapor is quite something.
This test drive shows that GM got the fuel cell technology ready for the road. Hopefully this project will translate into much massive production and hydrogen availability at the pump.
About driving experience I think this is also very positive as the electric engine shows it can be powerful and it opens a whole new future for performance cars powered by electric engine. Yes it is not as exiting as good old carburetor V8 but I presume we’ll forget about that quickly when GM new electric corvette can pull a 0-60 in 2 seconds ;)