Dec 13, 2008

GM's Project Driveway fuel cell program rolls past 500,000 miles next week

With all that's going on in Washington lately, the slow economy and a general apathy or even hostility toward the automotive industry, it's nice to see a technological bright spot on the horizon. While it's not a ground-breaking or earth-shattering development, General Motors' fuel cell test fleet breaking the 500,000mi (800,000km) mark demonstrates a certain maturity of the technology that reminds us that slow and steady progress can win the day.

Hydrogen fuel cells are not the widely-regarded front runners for the next generation of vehicular power sources. There are any number of reasons for this, but the primary one is that the distribution of hydrogen is inherently more costly and problematic than distribution of raw electricity.

Nevertheless, GM is forging ahead with its Project Driveway experiment, developing not only the cars but also the infrastructure necessary to support the cars. In the early stages, filling a tank of hydrogen required 20 minutes or more, but that time has been cut to 6-7 minutes thanks to user feedback and technical advances.

The user feedback itself is so far strong, according to GM. We at MotorAuthority, having driven a fuel cell Equinox, can agree that the driving experience is essentially indistinguishable from driving a standard vehicle, with the exception of the abnormally quiet ride.

Some of the systems used in the Project Driveway vehicles overlap with current production vehicles, including regenerative braking systems, and data gathered during testing has helped to improve the Saturn Vue, Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon 2-mode hybrids as well.