ROCHESTER, N.Y. - General Motors is moving at warp speed in its quest to reconfigure the automobile around a fuel cell powertrain and drive-by-wire technology.
GM has taken the AUTOnomy concept vehicle - its clean-sheet-of-paper approach to designing a platform for a fuel cell vehicle - from the 2002 Detroit auto show and fitted it with a body to create the Hy-Wire.
The Hy-Wire, built in just eight months, will go public Sept. 26 at the Paris auto show. The vehicle is scheduled to undergo durability tests this year.
While other automakers are using existing platforms for fuel cell vehicles, GM developed Hy-Wire's chassis and body specifically for the electronic drive system.
But moving from the AUTOnomy to the Hy-Wire illustrates the challenges of designing fuel cell vehicles for the marketplace. The Hy-Wire lacks some of the AUTOnomy's advanced features, such as an electric drive motor in each wheel and a thin composite chassis.
The aluminum chassis on the Hy-Wire is 11 inches thick, about twice as thick as that of the AUTOnomy. The extra thickness is needed because of the three 5,000-pound hydrogen storage tanks mounted in the chassis' center.
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. Burns laid out GM's plan during dedication of the company's $15 million fuel cell research center near Rochester, N.Y.
As with the AUTOnomy, the Hy-Wire 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 be produced sometime after 2010 if several obstacles to fuel cell vehicles are overcome: a lack of public hydrogen filling stations, high cost and the lack of mass-production technology for fuel cell stacks and their myriad components.
Fuel cell cars also will need a range of 250 to 300 miles to be commercially viable. The Hy-Wire can travel only about 60 miles before refueling.