Olsen test drives VANOC's fuel cell vehicles
Except for the decals, a hydrogen fuel cell Chevy Equinox looks like any other model. But the electric SUV generates its own electricity and the only other byproduct is water vapor coming out of the exhaust.
The heart of the system is a hydrogen fuel cell that puts out enough power to light up 20 homes.
The vehicle has Canada's fingerprints all over it. The SUV starts with the base vehicle built in Ontario.
"And then the rolling chassis was shipped to our engineering centre in Oshawa where was up-fitted with all the fuel cell components so all of the work was done here in Canada," Matt Crossley, director of engineering for GM Canada, said.
The two-year-old fuel cell Equinox is one of 115 on the road in the largest test of its kind any where in the world.
Eight of them will be in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. Already, new fuel cells are half the size and weight.
"That's important for bringing down the cost and that's really the next generation that we are looking to incorporate into production vehicles sometime in the middle of the next decade," Crossley said.
Chris Olsen took to the road to find out about the all important driving experience.
First, starting the car is slightly different. You turn the key two clicks and wait for the vehicle to tell you what to do next.
The fuel cell needs time to warm up. The colder the weather the longer it takes -- anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. And when you shut it down expect to hear some noises.
"You are going to hear the high speed compressor whirring under the hood, you'll also hear the hydrogen injectors clicking away," Chevrolet's Peter Schlay said.
To prevent water vapor from freezing in the system it gets blown out the back after the key is turned off.
When it comes to driving, the hydrogen cell Equinox is quiet, smooth and quite fast off the line -- the hallmark of electric vehicles.
It has no trouble keeping up to traffic with a top speed of 160 kilometers an hour.
The target date for fuel cell vehicles hitting the market is 2015 but there are hurdles to overcome -- like having hydrogen fuel stations.
"It's getting the availability of hydrogen into the environment which is key to making this happen," Schlay said.
Even if fuel cells never become widely used in vehicles what GM learns is not wasted. The knowledge can be used in electric vehicles where battery packs replace the fuel cell.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen