Another General Motors powertrain is headed to an Army vehicle, and additional details about the project could be released as early as next week.
Mark Reuss, GM’s global product chief, told investors last month the company had signed “a multi-year contract to build and demonstrate a fuel cell reconnaissance vehicle” for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
The automaker’s deal with the U.S. Army was signed in late September.
GM spokesman Dan Flores on Wednesday would not say what kind of all-terrain vehicle the fuel cell powertrain would be installed in.
“We hope to release more details about the collaboration in the near future,” Flores said.
Reuss said the vehicle “will be based on our current fuel cell development program, on our current stack. It will show the unique advantages our proven fuel cell technology can offer in an all-terrain tactical application.”
In August, GM inked a deal to supply as many as 55,000 of its turbodiesel Duramax V-8 engines for the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, which is slated to replace the Humvee. The Duramax beat out Ford’s Powerstroke diesel and competing engines from Cummins and other suppliers.
The Army is interested in fuel cell vehicles for a number of reasons. First, they are quieter and smoother than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Second, they can be used to generate electricity in the field; and because gaseous fuel weighs less than gasoline or diesel, fuel cell vehicles would be easier to fuel.
Because fuel cell vehicles have electric drivetrains, they offer high torque at low speeds, ideal for many types of military vehicles.
GM has said that it could produce a fuel cell vehicle for consumers by 2020, using the next-generation technology it is developing now with Honda. In 2013, GM and Honda signed an agreement to co-develop fuel cell powertrains.
The fuel cell to be tested by the Army is a current GM design and does not feature any Honda technology.
Earlier this year, Charlie Freese, head of global fuel cell engineering at GM, told Automotive News that Honda and GM engineers, working side by side, have made good progress reducing the size and cost of the fuel cell stacks, which are coated with expensive precious metals.
“It’s coming down very, very quickly in terms of precious metal loading. The workhorse fuel cell stacks have 29 grams of platinum. The next-gen stack is down in the 10 gram range. The next generation is running in our laboratory now. Weight is down by almost one half. Size is also down by almost one half. And cost has come down in orders of magnitude,” he said.
Automotive fuel cells use gaseous hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity for an electric motor that drives the wheels.
Hyundai already has a fuel cell vehicle on the market in California, while Toyota plans to begin delivering its own, the Mirai, by the end of the year. Honda plans to launch it own next year, also in California.
Flores said testing fuel cell technology in military vehicles would expose it to some of the toughest conditions possible and GM engineers could learn how the technology behaves under extreme duress.
Reuss said the fuel cell partnership with Honda has been working well and could lead to other projects.
“The GM-Honda partnership has been very successful, and we will be discussing plans to explore other collaborations in the near future with Honda,” he said.