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GM's Great Fuel Cell Powered Equinox That You May Never Own

The other day I gave high praise to two college students who succeeded in building a hydrogen fuel cell powered motorcycle. However, that doesn't take away from the fact the General Motors has invested over $1 billion in hydrogen fuel cell experiments and now has a fleet of experimental vehicles as well as few limited production models that have logged over 750,000 miles. But the cold hard fact here is that the public may never really see many real production models of the Equinox or other fuel cell vehicles because the Obama Administration has apparently lost faith in the future of fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cell funding research money from the federal government has been cut by $100 million this year, leaving just $68 million. gm fuel cell.jpg

A few years ago, BUSINESS WEEK magazine in an article wrote about some ongoing problems with cold weather damage to the membranes that converted the hydrogen to electric power. However, newer technology allowed that cold weather problem to be overcome. However another big hurdle has been the cost per unit of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which might have cost up to $70,000 per vehicle if costs could not be reduced. A further problem is the high cost to convert over existing gas stations to supply hydrogen instead to power this new generation of vehicles.

Over years of ongoing research and investment in new technology, GM has been over to overcome previous technology difficulties such as the cold weather problems with early prototypes to build a highly functional and reliable fleet of Equinox fuel cell vehicles with even a few limited production models now available for sale. Yet the future of fuel cell vehicles doesn't look too bright despite all of private and public money put into development of these alternative powered vehicles. The public may never really see real production examples of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The future of many alternative type engines ended for various reasons. Chrysler had hoped in the early 60's to build some gas turbine powered automobiles. However, these engines spun at speeds around 60,000 rpm and had to be greatly geared down, but produced excessive amounts of nitrogen oxide as well as producing great heat through the exhaust. Most of these cars were eventually crushed down by Chrysler for legal reasons and only a few survive as museum examples out of a fleet of 50 experimental models tested. The cars strangely sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner, compared to the sound from conventional V8 engines as well.

Interestingly, even though the Stanley Steamer automobiles were highly functional and reliable automobiles with a high top speed, steam powered engines were not a favorite of the public for several reasons including a longer warm-up time to be able to drive as well as some fears by customers of potential boiler explosions. However, in more recent years William Lear who owned the jet aircraft company had a team of engineers including one of my relatives who was the main engineer who worked to produce a modern version of the steam car. Lear developed a steam car with a new type of closed circuit system that was able to be fired up in seconds. It was both powerful and reliable, yet the modern steam engine project eventually died.

The Wankel rotary engine was another engine design that eventually faded from the marketplace. Mazda heavily used this engine for a few years, but eventually only used it in their sports cars. And GM had intended to build the engine as well, and AMC intended for the Pacer to use the engine, but GM decided against the project at some point, leaving the Pacer without an engine, forcing the huge and long inline AMC 6 cylinder engine to be used instead which even extended into the passenger cab due to the short hood design.

Saab and a few other car manufacturers once used two-stroke engines in their cars. However, fuel and oil mixing as well as high pollution have eventually forced this engine to be used mainly in some motorcycles and motor scooters.

Some form of electric cars now look to be the most likely, with more and more hybrids and extreme hybrids in the coming years. The hydrogen fuel cell cars once looked to be the most likely replacement for the internal combustion engine. And now after GM has apparently made some very good running prototypes and limited product models of these vehicles that have been tested for many miles, the federal government ssems to have lost faith in these modern technology design vehicles which few may now ever see the marketplace.

Unfortunately the price tag for the few production hydrogen fuel cell automobiles that exist still remains pretty high, however advancing technology seems to be cutting those costs. However, that might be a losing battle for an alternative powered vehicle design that might not catch on afterall since Washington seems to be losing faith here.


Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Comments (12)

Chad:

That's a fine review of the search for greater economy engines for cars Paul. Like you said, I too believe that the cost and mechanical complexity of a 2 engine car is going to doom the hybrids. The latest buzz coming out of DC is that President Obama wishes to set a standard MPG for all cars of 35.5 MPG. Forget taking your family on a trip of more than 100 miles or so. I have 2 kids. To get them, the camping gear, clothes, food, etc, in a car that gets 35.5 MPG.......impossible. I guarandamntee you that The President, his family, and the congresscritters site security reasons, get in their convoys of armored suburbans, and drive to Camp David instead of getting in a car that gets 35.5 MPG. Either that or they get in marine one. In the meantime, the middle class (most of whom can't afford new hybrids or electric cars) will get in their cars with anemic engines, or will be taxed ($1300 is the figure being thrown around) for having a car that doesn't meet the mileage standards. I just hate the double standards. Yes, I do believe The President must be kept secure. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that. I just don't understand why he and his family get a choice, but the rest of America has to pay (tax) to have the same choice if this new policy goes through. I will not be able to take my kids to see Mt. Rushmore, my favorite civil war battlefields, or even to see their grandparents (12 hr. drive) in a "smart". With current technology, I don't see why a steam powered car or turbine powered car wouldn't be possible. I've worked on some 60-70 hp turbines before, and had a go-kart design all worked up to use one. If I, a relatively un-educated amateur gearhead, can come up with a basic design, why can't GM, or Ford? I'm sure it would have taken some tweaking in the early stages, but from every model my buddies could run, it looked sound. If Jay Leno can have a turbine powered motorcycle (which is one seriously cool bike--story on that one please) why can't anyone work one into a car? Make it a hybrid, turbine makes electricity, electric motors in the hubs. Don't need a geared tranny then, just a big generator. Run it off diesel. Call it an Abrams lite for all I care. Cash in on that turbine powered name recognition.

Lee Ward:

Chad is do full of crap it's coming out of his ears.

Here's the truth about the new CAFE mileage standards.

The auto manufacturers are in favor of it, it'll reduce auto emissions by 30 percent, and it'll help reduce the oil's stranglehold on our nation's economy.

Obama's proposal brings the U.S. in line with the standards the state of California proposed in 2005. The Bush administration instructed the EPA to deny California's request, despite overwhelming support from the auto industry, environmentalists, etc.

Idiots like Chad have their heads so far up their ass all they can do is repeat the lies told to the right wing blogs.

The 35 MPG is a fleet average, you moron. It does not mean that you will have to squeeze your family and camping gear into a tiny econobox - and just where did you pull this $1300 tax from? Fact-check time, putz. Produce a link to any credible source for the $1300 tax.

Rich Fader:

Yeah, it's pretty easy for the government to get the major auto manufacturers to do what it wants when it effectively controls two of them.

Rich Fader:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090519/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_autos

"Administration officials said consumers were going to pay an extra $700, anyway, for mileage standards that had already been approved. The Obama plan adds another $600 to the price of a vehicle, a senior administration official said, bringing the total cost to $1,300 by 2016."

Okay, technically not a tax, but the price of each car is going up on average that much in order to meet federally-mandated standards. I'll let the audience judge for themselves whether that distinction ultimately makes much of a difference.

"That official said the cost would be recovered through savings at the pump for consumers and if gas prices follow government projections."

Mmyess...isn't it pretty to think so.

Lee Ward:

Rich wrote: "Yeah, it's pretty easy for the government to get the major auto manufacturers to do what it wants when it effectively controls two of them."

That's simple thinking on your part Rich.

from the article I linked above in #2, with the important sections bolded for the conservative trolls:

The world's major automakers said in a joint statement today that they support the President's commitment to establish a national program that will reduce carbon emissions and increase fuel economy.

"For seven long years, there has been a debate over whether states or the federal government should regulate autos. President Obama's announcement ends that old debate by starting a federal rulemaking to set a National Program," said Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

"Automakers are committed to working with the President to develop a national program administered by the federal government," he said. "All industries will be called upon to reduce carbon emissions. Automakers play an important role."

A national program is a priority to automakers, he said, because a national fuel economy program allows manufacturers to average sales nationwide, so customers in all 50 states can continue to buy the types of vehicles they need for family, business and leisure, the Alliance said in a statement.

A national program avoids conflicting standards from different regulatory agencies and gives automakers certainty for long-term product planning.

And a national program is expected to deliver overall greenhouse gas reductions equal to or better than those that would be realized under separate programs by different regulatory bodies.

The increased cost of producing the vehicle will be offset in the first three years through savings resulting from the increased mpg. Over the life of the vehicle there is a net savings of over $2800 through increased gas mileage.

So the $1300 "tax" -- which would not increase the mpg or reduce pollution -- is actually aa $1300 increase in the cost of producing the car which pays for itself after 3 years and results in a savings of $2800 over the life of the vehicle.

Reducing demand for gasoline will help reduce the cost of energy for everyone.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil increases national security.

The reduction in pollution is the icing, cost-wise. The mpg savings quickly equal and eventually exceed the increased cost (not tax) of the standards change, and keeps paying dividends for many years afterwards.

Making the cost of the reduced emissions a zero sum.

It's smart thinking, and it took a Democrat in the White House to get this done. The Bush administration struggled with this since 2005, unable to come up with a smart solution.

Obama pulled it off in the first few months of his presidency.

Allen:

At today's prices, what does a hybrid cost? Around 30K, and you can get around 30MPG on the hwy? Ford produces a diesel car that gets 65+MPG. But they won't sell them in the states.

Why aren't more people making waves about this? One unknown person from Ford said that due to govt regs it can't be sold here. But if they could sell it here, it would cost around 25K.

If that is true, I would rather pay 25K and get double the mileage. But right now I'm happy with my 08 Aura, getting over 34MPG on the highway, and has less than 4,000 miles on it. I expect the mileage to increase when the motor gets broken in.

Paul Hooson:

Not everyone would want to own one, but motor scooters have to get the highest mileage of any vehicles on the road and are actually very fast in city traffic despite very small engines due to advanced CVT automatic transmissions that have great gearing ratios.

I owned a $800 Coolster with a four-stroke engine that got an awesome 94mpg when I added AMSOIL synthetic four stroke scooter oil and AMSOIL 80weight90 to the gears, up from the 83mpg it was getting on conventional oil. It had a top speed a little over 40mph.

And I own two two-stroke motor scooters, with the 2008 Benelli X50 getting a pretty fair 62 miles per gallon. It also has about a 50mph top speed, which is plenty fast enough for 25-35mph city traffic. Modern two-stoke engines have automatic oil feeding, unlike the old two-stroke engines which required premixing oil and fuel. Two-stroke engines are very simple in design, yet generally do not last as long as four-stroke engines, but do provide great power for their size. However there is still much more air pollution produced by two-stroke designs, as well as much lower fuel mileage than four-stroke engines. Yet because of their design, two-stoke engines are very powerful for their size because they produce power on every engine stroke unlike the longer process to produce power in a four-stroke design. Better quality two-stroke engines don't have that typical weed eater type sound, yet all two-stroke engines have a unique engine sound due to their design. By comparison, the four-stroke designs are quieter and sound far smoother in operation. Most four-stroke scooter engines are based off a Honda style GY6 design built in China, and are long lasting and durable engines that can run many thousands of miles with no mechanical problems.

Amazingly, engines as little as 49cc have also been used in some microcars as well. Some microcars actually classify as a motor scooter or motorcycle in some cases if they have three wheels. Even some three wheel electric cars classify as motor scooters as well.

Lee Ward:

The Honda Insight has an MSRP under $20,000.

Scooters aren't for everyone -- but with more and more people using them the average consumer mpg overall is increasing, which is great news.

Are there any U.S. scooter-makers, Paul?

Chad:

Yeah, and look at the review they printed for the insight over at wizbang. I'm full of crap Lee? Really? $1300 dollars more for a car, and it's going to the government, isn't that a tax? Oh, it's a fee that we get no services for, that's ok, that's totally different. Funny, Rich already provided the link, am I still a putz? How exactly are they going to get a fleet average of 35.5 mpg with a suburban or pickup in the line? Not going to happen unless you seriously underpower it, or reduce the size of the vehicle. You ever packed for a week long camping trip, where you have to bring everything for yourself, water, food, clothes, shelter, the whole nine yards? You can't fit it in most cars. So basically, if I comment, you can be counted on to call me names, insult my intelligence, and basically try to hound me out of commenting? Real classy. What part of what I said isn't correct? Yes, this bill is supposed to make the environment cleaner, that's great, I support that. What I don't support is a $1300 increase in the price of cars. I was incorrect in my idea that that is only on cars that don't average the 35.5 mpg. It's going on all cars. Whether they meet the standard or not. That's what I have a problem with. I also have a problem with cars that take 6 miles to get up to interstate speeds, aren't very safe (due to their size), and are inordinately uncomfortable to ride in for any amount of time. You can't put your family on a scooter and drive 12 hours at christmas time in the upper midwest to go see Grandma and Grandpa. Unless there is a huge technological breakthrough in the next 7 years, the only way those standards are going to be met is to reduce the size of the cars, or to reduce the engine size (which reduces how big the vehicle can be and still perform). I asked at my local Honda dealership about service if I bought an insight, he said they are getting a mechanic trained on it NEXT SUMMER, so if it breaks down they have to put it on a truck to Omaha, where they have a trained mechanic. Then they bill you for transporting it. Oh, and like I said, read the reviews on the insight before you buy one, most of them don't think too highly of it. Follow the link from Wizbang to Jeremy Clarkson's review of it.

Lee Ward:

" $1300 dollars more for a car, and it's going to the government, isn't that a tax"

No, the $1300 figure that's being tossed about is the increased cost of producing the car to meet the new emissions and mpg standards. $600 of that $1300 is already built-in to the current standards, and the increase of an additional $700 is the new incremental cost that is added with this latest standards revision.

"Administration officials said consumers were going to pay an extra $700, anyway, for mileage standards that had already been approved. The Obama plan adds another $600 to the price of a vehicle, a senior administration official said, bringing the total cost to $1,300 by 2016."

Reread it, Chad. Nowhere in there is the word "tax".... You've been snookered by the lying right wing blogs. It's a lie. There's no $1300 tax.

"Yeah, and look at the review they printed for the insight over at wizbang. I'm full of crap Lee? Really?"

The price point on hybrids is down to $20,000. You may not like the current Honda model available at that price, but entry price of hybrids is down to $20K and other manufacturers will produce models to compete at that level.

Chad:

How'd they get the price down to $20,000.00? By cutting costs and building a car that the reviewer wanted to wreck just so he didn't have to drive it anymore. Yeah, that's what I want. You can't even have one serviced here because they don't have a mechanic trained to work on it. That's a great product roll out. And Lee, where do you find the info that states that the money goes to the cost of producing the car? I see where all the articles say it's for emissions standards, but it never once says that the money is going to the car makers. My understanding is that the money is going to regulation of emmissions, not control. The only regulation occuring through the CAFE legislation is the MPG standard. There is no change to the pollution standards, as current catalytic converters are as effecient as our level of technology allows. So where is the money going? When the government adds a charge to a product, it's a tax, by definition. You can call it a fee, you can call it whatever you want, it's still a tax. The $1300 mandated by the government is not going to the car companies, they'll charge more to build the car anyway. The government doesn't have to tell them to charge more for adding features, or to meet whatever technological demands they put on cars. Did the government tell car companies to charge $50.00 extra when they mandated that seatbelts be installed? No, the car companies did that based on what it cost them to put them in. The $1300.00 is not part of the cost of the car's production. The government cannot mandate what they charge for features, improvements, or options. This is a blatant charge added to the car to pay for government regulation. I'm not getting this from any "right-wing blog", I'm getting this from common sense and reading what the policy decision means. That $1300.00 may go through the dealerships, but it's going to the government. If you or I do that it's called money laundering.

Shrug:

Simple solution for the Obama National Socialist Car Experiment, don't buy one. I am keeping my truck. Screw them!

Same situation for California and 10% sales tax.

John Galt


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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