By on August 1, 2011

In an extended interview with Fareed Zakaria this weekend, GM CEO Dan Akerson repudiated a lot of GM’s previous optimism about hydrogen fuel cell cars, saying

We’re looking at hydrogen fuel cells, which have no carbon emissions, zero. They’re very expensive now, but we’ve, just in the last two years, reduced the price of that technology by $100,000. The car is still too expensive and probably won’t be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don’t know. And then there’s the issue of infrastructure

The DetN points out that GM had previously said that it would have anywhere from 1,000 to “hundreds of thousands” of fuel cell cars on the road by 2010, and most recently said (in 2009) that the technology would be “commercialized” by 2015 and “cost-competitive” by 2020. So, if hydrogen is moving to the back burner, what’s moving up? Akerson revealed that

soon we’ll be introducing “bi-fuel” engines which can burn both compressed natural gas and liquid gasoline.

We’ve seen GM take early steps towards bringing a natural gas-powered car to the road, but this is the first sign from a top executive that a dual-fuel car is a certainty in GM’s near future. By talking down hugely expensive hydrogen cars and talking up cheap natural gas powerplants, Akerson sends a strong message that GM’s green car efforts are moving in a more pragmatic direction. Hit the jump for part two of the interview, in which Akerson talks gas tax and green cars.

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9 Comments on “Dan Akerson Talks Down Hydrogen, Reveals Natural Gas Plans In Extended Interview...”

  • avatar

    Did GM ever launch the tri-fuel Astra in Brazil?

  • avatar

    This could be a shrewd move, as it is an avenue largely unexplored by other automakers. Liquid CNG vehicles are nothing new, but have yet to be commercialized on a large scale. Given America’s supply of abundant and (relatively) cheap natural gas, it could be a winner if it’s done properly.

  • avatar

    My problem is that it seems everyone is talking about the technology behind alternative fuel sources, but no one is talking about the logistics. The vast majority of the country has no hydrogen or natural gas filling stations. What is my incentive to upgrade my gasoline station or to open a new station for alternative fuels? And if I can’t find a station easily, why would I purchase one of these cars?

    And don’t say government incentive, please.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      As long as we’re talking compressed natural gas (not LNG), a very substantial portion of American homes have natural gas piped in. Honda’s do-it-at-home CNG filling station was apparently unreliable, but that doesn’t mean the concept is basd. Given the pervasiveness of natural gas distribution systems in most American cities, it would not be difficult to add a CNG “pump” to most existing gasoline stations. And, if the engine were “dual-fuel” the fact that a filling station in the boonies did not have CNG would not be a problem.

      The bigger issue is accommodating the physical volume of the CNG storage tank along with the gasoline or diesel fuel tank.

      • 0 avatar

        Every bus I’ve seen that uses CNG has a rather large tank on the roof. If that’s the best place for the tank, expect to see these dual fuel setups on larger cars, motorhomes, commercial vans and trucks. With passenger cars, a redesign is needed that will put the kibosh on swoopy, aerodynamic styling.

        If the new CAFE rules apply only to gasoline consumption, the bi-fuel system would help get the truck component impact down while maintaining sales of high margin vehicles. Depending on the rules and loopholes, a fairly small CNG tank might be enough and commercial trucks have plenty of space to accommodate it, but it’ll still be a challenge for the car designers.

  • avatar

    I’m in favor of CNG vehicles, especially advantage of ability to refill with natural gas already supplied to our homes.

    My concern is why bi-fuel?
    Seems potential of being too comploicated,
    as mentioned regarding this dual fuel concept:

    “It remains to be seen if the additional cost of the extra complexity of the engine – and the hassle of filling up twice every time you gas/diesel up – will limit the commercial interest.”

  • avatar

    He didn’t talk about GM’s impending second bankruptcy?

  • avatar

    “bi-fuel” sounds great until you open the trunk of your Impala and see that you have as much usable space as a Miata. Nothing more annoying than a bifuel Corolla taxi where your suitcases have to go in the back seat.

  • avatar

    >>The DetN points out that GM had previously said that it would have anywhere from 1,000 to “hundreds of thousands” of fuel cell cars on the road by 2010, and most recently said (in 2009) that the technology would be “commercialized” by 2015 and “cost-competitive” by 2020. So, if hydrogen is moving to the back burner, what’s moving up? Akerson revealed that<<

    They also said the Volt would be an EV and produced a hybrid.

    All the controversy surrounding the Chevy Volt’s unique drivetrain raises a bigger issue: Why would GM mislead the media for months about how it really works? Why does the company refuse to call the Volt a plug-in hybrid, the most obvious and accurate description of the car?

    btw, Volt sales are virtually non-existent. GE is bailing them out by buying half the production and taking guv money to do it.

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