Several of my teammates have discussed various aspects of the Chevrolet Fuel Cell electric-powered Equinox so far; its importance as a research tool, how it performs, how to refuel it. We've enjoyed having it in our midst (and in our mitts) for the last week, and it still has another yet to go. Another interesting aspect of GM's overall Fuel Cell Electric program is called Project Driveway. In other words, putting the technology to the test in public hands.
Project Driveway reminds me of what Chrysler did with its Turbine car program four decades ago. Fifty of the lush, Ghia-designed coupes were loaned out to families all over America. The goal was to put lots of test miles on them under varying conditions, garner feedback, see what broke, and of course, get some press. Each family got to keep the jet-aged Chrysler for a month. Project Driveway is similar in purpose, although larger in scope.
GM has more than 100 Equinox Fuel Cell Electrics out there, and in most cases, the lucky guinea pigs get to keep them for three months. On top of that there's a lot of work put into getting them into the hands of "celebrity influencers." Jay Leno has one, and I suspect can keep it as long as he likes. Patrick Dempsey has gotten rides in them, and there is a marketing tie-in with Virgin Airlines. But the main focus of the program is to get these things out there, running around every day, driven by a wide variety of folks under all sorts of conditions. The program runs through 2010, and you can apply for consideration at www.chevrolet.com.
You might say "Why is GM testing a Fuel Cell Equinox when it's not going to produce it?" The answer, of course, is to learn, develop, test, improve, debug, and then develop some more. Don't focus on the truck -- its just a carrier pigeon. It's the technology that is being evaluated.
GM is spending a ton of money here, with no hopes of an immediate return or profit. It is my opinion that the mainstream production and use of hydrogen-powered vehicles remains decades away. But the company is making an investment in the future, at a time when R & D dollars are stretched. I credit them for it.
We'll have to see where the notion goes, and when. For Chrysler in the '60s, it went nowhere, as turbine technology never proved to be a good match for four-wheeled, personal transportation. I suspect hydrogen, and particularly hydrogen-fuel-cell power, will, somewhere down the road, enjoy a happier ending. Those who have the power will be ahead when that time comes.