ROCHESTER, N.Y. - The "skateboard" now has something to carry around.
General Motors has taken the AUTOnomy concept vehicle from the Detroit auto show in January 2002, its clean-sheet-of-paper approach to designing a fuel-cell powered vehicle platform, and fitted it with a body to create the Hy-Wire.
Built in just eight months, the Hy-Wire will be rolled out before the public on Sept. 26 at the Paris auto show. The driveable vehicle is scheduled to undergo extensive durability testing this year.
While other automakers are using existing platforms for their fuel cell vehicles, GM developed Hy-Wire's chassis and body specifically for the electronic drive system.
The AUTOnomy was a look at GM's thinking about what it expects vehicles using fuel cell power and by-wire technology will look like in 2010. The Hy-Wire's exterior isn't nearly as sleek as the AUTOnomy and lacks some of its advanced technical features, such as an electric motor in each wheel and a super-thin composite chassis.
The aluminum chassis on Hy-Wire is 11 inches thick, about twice that of the AUTOnomy. The extra thickness is mainly due to the three 5,000-pound hydrogen storage tanks mounted in the center of the chassis.
The Hy-Wire has the same powertrain as the 2001 HydroGen 3 Opel Zafira fuel cell test vehicle, which includes a single, transverse-mounted electric motor that drives the front wheels. The vehicle has a top speed of 97 mph and a range of 60 miles.
"We have taken the technology as it exists today and packaged it into an innovative, driveable vehicle comparable in size and weight to today's luxury automobiles," said Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and development and planning.
As with the AUTOnomy, the Hy-Wire also has a detachable body, and the electric controls for the steering, throttle and brakes can be moved to accommodate either left-hand or right-hand driving.
Burns said vehicles similar to the AUTOnomy could see mass production in the 2010 to 2020 timeframe, if several obstacles are overcome.
Standing in the way of fuel cell vehicles are: a lack of public hydrogen filling stations, high cost and no mass- production technology for fuel cell stacks and their myriad components. Fuel cell powered cars also will need to travel between 250 and 300 miles to be commercially viable.