War Draws Nearer to General Motors

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

After forming last year, GM Defense LLC, the resurrected military arm of General Motors, is well on its way to outfitting operational personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The most promising product to emerge from the potentially lucrative division is the Colorado ZH2, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered variant of the automaker’s ZR2 off-road midsize pickup. GM debuted the vehicle a year before the creation of GM Defence, then handed it over to the military.

Apparently, the Army thinks quite highly of it, having field-tested the quiet truck during battalion-sized war games. But that’s just the start of GM’s plan to dominate land, sea, and maybe air.

GM offloaded its previous defense unit, created in 1950, to General Dynamics in 2003 for the sum of $1.1 billion. Fast-forward a decade and a half, and GM Defence now has three vehicles in development, two land-based, the under an undersea vehicle.

“Like any start-up, we are not waiting to begin developing solutions with our Defense Department partners,” said Charlie Reese, the executive overseeing the unit, in an email to Automotive News. Reese claims the division’s exploring new “opportunities,” but wouldn’t spill the beans. Loose lips sink product plans and ships, after all.

The ZH2 came about through a collaboration with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), and recently wrapped up a year of field testing. Powered by a compressed tank of hydrogen and fuel cell feeding an electric motor, the off-road pickup serves two purposes. The first involves stealthiness. With no exhaust note and engine noise, plus a reduced heat signature, the Army envisions the ZH2 sneaking up on enemy forces, and possibly engaging them.

The ZH2 “could make a positive impact to the cavalry squadron, enabling us to be on the move silently, find the enemy, and kill the enemy undetectable at close range,” said Capt. Quinn Heydt, 2nd Squadron assistant operations officer, in a TARDEC-penned article published by the military in February.

The second bonus for having a ZH2 in the field is its ability to generate 120- and 240-volt AC power for any number of uses. This would be particularly advantageous for special forces operating long distances from forward operating bases. GM claims the ZH2 possesses a range of 400 miles. Refueling back at base, however, remains an issue. As hydrogen remains a new fuel type for this type of work (and almost all others), work is underway to explore methods of storing and transporting the compressed gas in a war zone.

The other land-based product GM Defence hopes to turn into big contracts is its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure platform (SURUS) — essentially, a fuel cell-powered platform designed to form the basis of numerous vehicle types. Then there’s that unmanned sub.

Lately, the U.S. Defense Department seems especially interested in autonomous vehicles, something GM knows a few things about. No, there doesn’t seem to be much military use for a Chevrolet Bolt that’s missing its steering wheel, but the technology under development by GM-owned Cruise AV might prove useful for military applications. GM Defense is all about leveraging its parent company’s R&D for its own products.

[Images: General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on May 12, 2018

    This vehicle appears to be a marketing ploy by GM and the Army. What use is this vehicle in a battlefield? None. Looking at the platform used, the US Colorado I would of assumed the global Colorado with its more durable chassis would of been a better vehicle. What use is the loading area? None. My BT50 would be better for military use and set up for military use. This looks like a teenagers wet dream for what a military vehicle looks like. It's nothing but eye candy for the masses ..... Why? To buy them into thinking that GM has spent tax payer dollars well. Here's what the vehicle should look like if it is truly for a battlefield; http://www.military-today.com/trucks/mercedes_g_class_6x6.htm https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralaustralia/14754199342 If you are prepared to scroll through the photos in the link below there are plenty of vehicles to show how battalions move this day and age. The link is big and it has Australian Army, US Marine vehicles moving in the NT. Very interesting. Oh, and real trucks! http://www.flickriver.com/places/Australia/Northern+Territory/Freds+Pass/recent/

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    • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on May 14, 2018

      @Art Vandelay Nope. The doors are too small for entry/exit while armed. That rear seat is only big enough for stowing bags. It's useless, except for marketing purposes. Offer that and a minivan to those guys and they'll jump into the minivan. Plus, the minivan is subtle.

  • Civicjohn Civicjohn on May 12, 2018

    C’mon, GM, I want to think you can do better than this for the US government. I’d like to know how they are going to deploy hydrogen on the battlefield. Then I just turned on the TV and saw Chevy promoting their SUVs in a commercial, and one of the “husbands” was sporting a man-bun. Mary, you have so many folks here that for some reason think you’re hot, but please never approve a commercial that includes somebody with a man-bun. The bottle of water I was drinking had to change to a cocktail, stat.

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    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on May 13, 2018

      We do ship helium around for the surveillance blimps but yeah there are some logistical challenges for sure here. I wonder if they plan on generating it at the Fob somehow.

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