From: Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune
Published January 10, 2005 12:00 AM

GM's Fuel-Cell Cars Still Face Obstacles

Jan. 10—DETROIT — General Motors Corp. says one problem has been solved, but two remain in making hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered vehicles viable by the automaker's 2010 target.





In unveiling its fuel-cell concept car, called Sequel, at Detroit's Auto Show last week, GM said it has addressed fuel-cell driving performance, but it is still working on affordability and refueling.





GM says the Sequel can travel up to 300 miles before refueling and can accelerate from zero to 60 m.p.h. in less than 10 seconds — performance equal to many gasoline-powered cars.





Current fuel cells can travel only 175 to 200 miles before refueling and take up to 16 seconds to go from zero to 60 m.p.h., said Larry Burns, vice president of research and development for GM.





"Both range and performance are credible and prove we can make fuel-cell vehicles that people will want. But we still have to make them affordable," said Chris Borroni-Bird, Sequel program director.





"Hydrogen fuel cells are about 10 times too expensive now," he said, adding that they cost about $50,000 versus roughly $5,000 for a gas-powered engine.





But Borroni-Bird points out that the five-passenger Sequel can get 40 miles per gallon, or double that of the V-6 gas engine in the midsize Cadillac SRX that's roughly the same size.





Sequel is the third hydrogen-fuel-cell concept from GM in the last three years, after the Autonomy two years ago and the Hy-wire last year. In all three, fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity that power electric motors to propel the vehicle.





Sequel, however, adds a series of rechargeable lithium ion batteries to store electrical energy to increase range and provide a needed power boost for passing or hill climbing.





But affordability is not the only problem. Except for one Shell station in the Washington area, there are no retail outlets where hydrogen cars can be refueled.





"If we can demonstrate vehicle affordability, it would create a compelling need to form the infrastructure," Borroni-Bird said.





"We did a study on what it would take to support 1 million fuel-cell vehicles in the 100 largest cities in the U.S. with 70 percent of the population. We found it would require 12,000 stations at a cost of $12 billion to retrofit them for hydrogen," he said.





But, Borroni-Bird said, the chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp. recently estimated it will cost $200 billion to develop the oil and gas supplies this country needs by 2025, making the $12 billion spent for hydrogen stations pale in comparison.





"Build a better mousetrap, and they will come," he said. "If GM's EV-1 1/8battery-powered car that GM leased between 1996 and 2000 seated five instead of two, had a range of 300 miles rather than 100 and recharged in five minutes rather than five hours, you'd see a lot of EV-1s today and a lot of electric battery recharging stations to take care of them."





Because of that limited range, maximum recharging time and a low number of leases, 800 in four years, GM stopped the program in 2000 and retrieved the cars when the leases expired.





GM is using some of the cars to study how to apply the electric system to future hybrids. It donated others to museums or universities for study or disposed them as scrap.





GM says its new Sequel hydrogen-fuel-cell concept can go 300 miles before refueling, compared with up to 200 miles for current fuel cells. The interior of the Sequel concept includes a movable center console. It seats five, and GM says it gets 40 miles per gallon, or twice that of a similar-size gas engine in a midsize Cadillac SRX.





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