Coronavirus Seems to Kill GM's Hydrogen Ambitions

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Maybe the military will still be able to get one, but the cash-consuming coronavirus pandemic appears to have nixed any chance that a normal consumer will be able to slide into a fuel cell-powered General Motors vehicle anytime soon.

Good news for Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai?

Or maybe worthy of a big, fat yawn from our readers? Who friggin’ cares, you might be thinking — GM’s been chasing this unviable technology for years!

Indeed they have, going back the the 2000s, and financial constraints have now caught up to the stubbornly latent technology. Or perhaps GM just recognizes the pointlessness of pouring resources into a technology that, two decades later, is still only usable for those living near two U.S. cities?

In the automaker’s annual sustainability report, GM resolved to hold the course on its electrified future, but those consumer-bound electric motors will source their juice from big, big batteries — not mini, on-board powerplants.

As reported by CNBC‘s Michael Wayland, GM Chief Sustainability Officer Dane Parker admitted the change during a media call.

“We saw the importance of prioritizing our resources, particularly in the U.S. market to electric passenger vehicles,” Parker said, adding that the company’s green focus would henceforth be split between civilian and military/commercial customers.

Originally, GM planned to launch 20 EVs by 2023, one of which would be a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. While GM still plans to foist electric vehicles on retail consumers en masse, underpinned by a new modular architecture and powered by in-house Ultium batteries, the company’s hydrogen team will now focus solely on military and commercial buyers. You’ll recall that GM Defense began rustling up interesting Chevrolet truck variants not too long ago.

That leaves players like Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai to continue carrying the hydrogen torch in the American retail market. BMW and Mercedes-Benz remain interested in the technology’s consumer applications, too. The average buyer, of course, might not be.

[Image: Daimler]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Jul 16, 2020

    The coronavirus has provided many companies with a perfectly good alibi to modify a course without scaring the markets. An error is averted yet everyone "saves face".

    • Old_WRX Old_WRX on Jul 16, 2020

      @schmitt trigger, That is good. Now, they can get out of the hydrogen fiasco while saving face. Just say: "the corroded up virus made me do it." The difficulty of dealing with 5,000 or 10,000 psi distribution of a gas as slippery as H2 sounds daunting. Hydrogen does have one advantage as far as fires go: Hydrogen doesn't puddle like gasoline vapors do.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 16, 2020

    From what I've seen so far, hydrogen's biggest advantage is in commercial and civil services vehicles and not in privately-owned personal or family vehicles. The small size of most POVs means the amount of conversion grid area is limited, which limits the total output power of the vehicle itself. Add to this that the fuel, no matter how it is obtained, is likely to be far more expensive than wall-socket electricity, even when using a class 2 charger at home (commercial fast chargers will, of course, want as much profit as they can get away with.) So anything from roughly vehicle Class IV and up can probably be served better by hydrogen with its faster 'refueling' time and potentially longer range (depending on tank capacity.) I can see almost any major construction vehicle taking advantage of the massive torque electric motors offer while, like diesels, can run at a fixed output level for long-term operation. Railroads and OTR trucking--even commercial buses--can take advantage of the capability and realize more efficient overall operations, especially when supported by a battery pack for surge demand and regenerative braking (something flat wasted in modern railroading at the moment.)

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    • Vulpine Vulpine on Jul 17, 2020

      @indi500fan: Just so you know, that's almost exactly what they're experimenting with right now. It looks just like any other locomotive for the moment but it's loaded with batteries designed first to help get the train moving and then to assist in both ascending and descending grades. I'm hopeful that the experiment pans out because the idea isn't too different from the 'Cow and Calf' engine combinations (where one lacks the control cabin) and is little more than a concrete mass on top of the electric motors, where the 'cow' powers both itself and the attached unit. The only difference is that the 'calf' in this case is weighted with batteries and supplements the 'cow's' output power without using another Diesel engine. ---- This is a significant improvement over the hybrid 'Goats' they were trialing about 4-8 years ago (of which only one is still in use, IIRC.) @Toolguy: That's exactly the unit I was talking about. Just went into service about 1-2 months ago.

  • Lynchenstein @EBFlex - All ICEs are zero-emission until you start them up. Except my mom's old 95 Accord, that used to emit oil onto the ground quite a lot.
  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂
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