First Drive: Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell
Compared with the dust-up between GM and Toyota over who's got the better approach to hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology (i.e., Volt versus Hybrid Synergy Drive), the General has been positively genteel in its pursuit of hydrogen fuel-cell technology. There's been, rather boringly, not a speck of mud slung between GM and Honda, which recently unveiled its impressive FX Clarity. Not only are GM's and Honda's fuel-cell teams perfect gentlemen when referring to each other, but their respective research-fleet vehicles will soon be equaniminously refilling at many of the same hydrogen stations. (Although they'd better; these stations are few and far between).
Nonetheless, there's a canyon of difference between the H2-fueled Clarity and Equinox. Where the Clarity is a future-world, clean-sheet FCEV, GM pragmatically plugs its parts into the conventional Equinox platform. Its 94-horsepower electric motor, reduction gears, fuel-cell stack, and control electronics are an integrated unit that neatly swaps for the conventional gasoline engine and transaxle. Its nickel metal hydride battery pack (the Clarity employs Li-ion chemistry) is stashed under the rear seat, and a trio of small, 10,000psi hydrogen tanks are required to store the needed 4.2 kg of compressed hydrogen and still be finagle-able into the available space. The result is a seamless driving experience that's absent of the compressor whine normally encountered while accelerating. No, 12 seconds to 60 won't knock your socks off, but otherwise the Equinox FCEV defies you to find fault with it.
Frankly, this Equinox isn't the marvel the FCX Clarity is. But consider the bigger picture: GM's Project Driveway, just getting underway, will be distributing over 100 fuel-cell Equinox FCEVs to the public for rotating three-month periods. Consequence? By far the world's biggest real-world knowledge base of the technology. Fold this in with GM's current work on its next fuel-cell designs, and you smell a leapfrog advance coming when all this finds its way into a future fuel-cell version of the Volt. Will GM and Honda be so cordial then? We'll see.
|2008 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell|
|3-Month Lease Cost||$0|
|Vehicle layout||Front motor, FWD, 4-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Motor||AC synchronous, 94-hp/236-lb-ft|
|Curb weight||4430 lb (mfr est)|
|Length x width x height||188.8 x 71.4 x 69.3 in|
|0-60 mph||12.0 sec (mfr est)|
|Fuel Economy||39 mpg gas|
|Range, City||150 miles|
|Refill Time||3-5 minutes|
|Limited Availability||First quarter 2008|