Amphibious Cars  

Monday, April 13, 2009
Finally, an Underwater Car

For decades, people have been obsessed with the idea of a car that can do more than just drive on the road.

Whether dressing them up with propellers or slapping skis on them, designers, crackpot inventors and particularly filmmakers have done their best to translate the automobile into almost every possible environment.

A particular standout is the idea of a car that is as comfortable out on the water as it is on the highway.

Amphibious cars have been around in one form or another since the 60’s, both in James Bond movies and in the garages of people with altogether too much money to spend.

One of the rare automobile variants that has actually been successfully brought to market, it has nevertheless been nothing more than a novelty niche vehicle.

That all could change if Rinspeed actually moves ahead with production of their sQuba Concept. This sporty 2 door roadster is not only an attractive, peppy road car but it also claims to be able to submerge to a depth of up to ten meters and then cut through the water like a submarine.

That’s right – this convertible can actually go underwater.

If at first that seems like the worst possible thing you could do with the top down, well, you are right. To top things off, the entire vehicle is powered exclusively by batteries.

Assuming the idea of driving a topless submarine car into a lake and dunking the batteries in water hasn’t completely turned you off, then you might also be interested to know that this miracle of engineering has a dual propulsion system once undersea.

Two propellers at the rear of the car and two jet propulsion devices at the front push the sQuba on its course. Based on the Lotus Elise, the car employs carbon nano-tubes to keep the weight down and buoyancy just right.

The driver and passenger benefit from a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA – get it?) that provides them with enough air to survive their deep-sea excursions. Equally impressive, a laser sensor system can actually pilot the car completely autonomously, if required.

It is interesting to note that the famous Bond submarine car was also a Lotus, albeit the larger Esprit model. It also had a roof. But moving beyond the movie tie-in, it is important to note that Rinspeed has achieved their goal of a submersible sports car while at the same time creating a zero-emissions vehicle.

When a boutique designer like Rinspeed can devote enough resources to such an outlandish concept car yet at the same time ensure that the vehicle maintain an environmental consciousness, it begs the question as to why major auto manufacturers aren’t able to muster up their enormous resources and create at least one commercially viable electric vehicle.

The Rinspeed sQuba is a fun idea, a car that will likely never be mass produced, but it is also a wake up call to those who would steer away from ecological innovation and continue to toe the status quo line. Perhaps one day a sQuba will rise up out of the waters of lake Michigan and startle the big three into action.

Development and History

The sQuba, developed by Swiss company Rinspeed, is the world's first car that can be driven both on land and under water. The original idea by Rinspeed founder and CEO Frank M. Rinderknecht was inspired by the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. The Lotus Elise is the basis of this car.

The sQuba is a zero-emission, all electric vehicle which uses three electric motors, one for land travel and two for water. It drives on land powered by its electric rear-wheel drive powertrain, utilizing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Upon entering water, it floats on the surface until the operator floods the interior to submerge it. It can be submerged to a depth of 10 metres (33 ft), powered by twin electric-powered propellers supplemented by two Seabob water jets. It "flies" when underwater, like a submarine, as it is not designed to drive along the surface at the bottom of the water. The car's top land speed is 120 km/h (75 mph). On the surface of water, the top speed is 6 km/h (3.2 kn/3.7 mph) and underwater it is 3 km/h (1.6 kn/1.9 mph).

The vehicle can transport a driver and passenger in its open cockpit. The open cockpit design is intended to allow the occupants to escape easily in case of emergency. When underwater, the occupants breathe air carried in the vehicle through scuba-style rebreathers. Without occupants, the sQuba will surface automatically. The twin water jets mounted on rotating louvers at the front of the vehicle provide steering and lift while it is underwater and the propellers at the rear provide forward movement.

The vehicle's interior is water and salt resistant so that it can be driven in the ocean.

The sQuba also comes equipped with a laser sensor system made by autonomous cruise control system manufacturer Ibeo to allow autonomous operation.

The inspiration for the sQuba was the animated Lotus Esprit driven by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me. During the thirty years since the movie premiered, Rinspeed founder and CEO Frank M. Rinderknecht wanted to build a car that could move underwater like a submarine.

The existing, functioning prototype cost more than US$1.5 million to build. When the sQuba enters production, they are expected to "cost less than a Rolls-Royce", according to Rinderknecht. A production schedule has not been made.

Rinderknecht admits that there will be limited appeal for a car that can dive underwater. The car will be marketed as a "toy for rich people".
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I have a long history of hitchhiking and there is always an edge of excitement whenever I do it. It is a bit like skydiving and roller coasters because it is both frightening and exhilarating.

To me the biggest disappointment is waiting for the cars. I have very little patience so I usually start walking backwards with my arm out. Walking alongside a dirty freezing American super-highway in the dead of March is not something I want to ever do again.

Let alone carrying a bag weighing 80 lbs on my back. It was my second time hitchhiking and I quickly learned that I should have packed a lot less books for the trip.

I had started out on my parents' farm in Ontario and walked down to the highway at the corner. A neighbor spotted me and gave a ride into town. Walking south of town I caught another ride that took me most of the way to London, Ontario. The driver was a pilot heading south-east to Toronto to pilot a plane and I was heading for the American border which was south-west. We made really good time because he was running late and speeding 20 to 40 km/h above the speed limit.

I hope he got there in time.

The next guy to pick me up was a delivery man going across the border, but due to company rules he couldn't take me across the border himself. I had to call a taxi.

I told the border guards I was a pall bearer at a funeral in Flint, Michigan (total lie, I was visiting a female friend near Columbus Ohio). I was 18 at the time and didn't feel very comfortable discussing my love life with American border security. Security in 1997 wasn't very tight and they practically waved me through at the Port Huron border.

It had only been about 2 hours since I had left my parents' farm.

I ended up walking through all of Port Huron. Lots of suburbia. It took about 4 hours. I got very tired of looking at substandard American housing. Eventually walked through some nicer newer sections and then on the outskirts of Port Huron, new construction.

Finding another highway I finally caught a ride with another delivery truck, this one delivering a smashed up sports car on a flatbed to Pontiac on the outskirts of Detroit. (The story behind the smashed sports car was that it had belonged to a rich young man who had gone speeding down a hill and ran into the corner of a Mack truck, causing the car to somersault in the air and land on its side. The one side of the car looked perfectly fine but the other side was demolished and crumpled inwards.) He dropped me off near a highway and it wasn't even a minute when another car stopped and picked me up.

It was an older man, mid-fifties, and a lawyer. He jokingly told me at one point that if he could find a woman that could tell when he was lying that he'd marry her. Again he dropped me off near a highway and it wasn't long before I was picked up.

This time it was a truck driver heading to Chicago. Pay dirt! He dropped me off on Highway #23 south of Flint. From here I could catch a truck or something going all the way

Or not. I walked for hours and it was getting late.

To pass the time I sang 100 bottles of beer on the wall, talked to god, threatened god, kicked pop cans on the side of road. It was cold and snowing a bit and there was no one even slowing down. Actually that is not true. One bunch of idiots swerved at me and tried to hit me.

That gave me something to complain about and I did so loudly until I came across a derelict old Ford big rig rotting in a field. It looked like it had been built in the 1960s and hadn't moved since the 1970s. I hopped the fence and checked to see if the door would open. It was clean and relatively warm inside compared to the cold outside.

So I slept the night in a rusting Ford, sleeping fitfully due to the cold. I awoke to sunlight and feeling horrible. I brushed my hair, ate a snack I was carrying and headed out.

I was a bit confused because it had been dark last night and I wanted to make sure I was actually on the right highway. Walking through a small town I spotted a police cruiser and asked directions. He gave me the directions but then stopped me.

He decided to call in to dispatch and report a "suspicious character" (confirmation that I looked horrible in addition to feeling it). He looked at my ID and eventually I went on my way. I stopped at a McDonald's in the same town and decided to get some breakfast (and shaved in the bathroom).

Heading south of town I got picked up a young mother (she couldn't have been much older than I was) with two kids, ages 1 and 3. The oldest was a boy and I sat in the back with him while he counted trucks out the back window.

"One truck. Two truck. Two truck. Two truck."

Apparently he understood plural but hadn't yet grasped the concept of three.

She dropped me off near the southern edge of Michigan and I caught a truck driver going south to Charleston, West Virginia (which meant he was going through Columbus, Ohio on the way). Finally!

Ohio went by in a blur. It wasn't even noon yet and I arrived at my destination. The relationship ended badly anyway, but the process of getting there had been a exhilarating, sometimes scary, adventure.

The female friend and I didn't get along very well. I was an artist and she was an art critic. It was doomed from the beginning. I was young, foolish and didn't care though. I look back at that as a defining moment in my life and what I believe in.

I found a girlfriend who was closer to home and also an artist. I still don't drive. I got my driver's license but it expired when I decided to travel overseas. These days I rely upon subways and taxis.

I took taxis almost every day when I lived in Jeonju, South Korea. Taxis there are really cheap and for less than a subway ride in Toronto ($2) I could get almost anywhere in Jeonju I wanted to go.

Don't get me wrong, I love cars and I'm the editor of the Automotive eZine, but I just don't see the point in owning my own car right now. Call me a goddam hippie if you want to, but I'm waiting for hydrogen cars to come out.

One last thing: With the exception of the mother and the neighbor, every person who picked me up is a former hitchhiker themselves. It is almost like belonging to a club. So when hydrogen cars do come out you can guarantee I will be picking up my share of hitchhikers in the future.

The real question will be how many people actually hitchhike by 2012?

READ MORE - Hitchhiking
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Self-Driving Car no longer Science Fiction  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

In the future cars will drive themselves and even park themselves at their destination. General Motors might start selling GPS cars by 2018.

We've been looking forward to this technology for 50+ years, but now that it is finally only a decade away and GM is testing prototypes it is all a little... unbelievable. "Herbie the Lovebug", the original driverless car, was only a fantasy. Ten years from now we could be driving our own Herbies (or rather it would be driving us).

General Motors is abuzz with the goal of being the first company to offer driverless cars. GM, parts suppliers, university engineers and other automakers are all working on vehicles that could revolutionize short- and long-distance travel. GM chief executive Rick Wagoner will devote part of his speech to the driverless vehicles tomorrow at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"This is not science fiction," Larry Burns, GM's vice president for research and development, said recently.

The most significant obstacles facing the vehicles could be human rather than technical: government regulation, liability laws, privacy concerns and people's passion for the automobile and the control it gives them.

Much of the technology already exists for vehicles to take the wheel: radar-based cruise control, motion sensors, lane-change warning devices, electronic stability control and satellite-based digital mapping. And automated vehicles could dramatically improve life on the road, reducing crashes and congestion.

But only if people are interested: "Now the question is what does society want to do with it?'' Burns said.

"You're looking at these issues of congestion, safety, energy and emissions. Technically there should be no reason why we can't transfer to a totally different world.''

GM plans to use an inexpensive computer chip and an antenna to link vehicles equipped with driverless technologies. The first use likely would be on highways; people would have the option to choose a driverless mode while they still would control the vehicle on local streets, Burns said.

He said the company plans to test driverless car technology by 2015 and have cars on the road around 2018.

Sebastian Thrun, co-leader of the Stanford University team that finished second among six teams completing a 100-kilometre Pentagon-sponsored race of driverless cars in November, said GM's goal is technically attainable. But he said he wasn't confident cars would appear in showrooms within a decade.

"There's some very fundamental, basic regulations in the way of that vision in many countries," said Thrun, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering.

The defence department contest, which initially involved 35 teams, showed the technology isn't ready for prime time. One team was eliminated after its vehicle nearly charged into a building, while another vehicle mysteriously pulled into a house's carport and parked itself.

Thrun said a key benefit of the technology eventually will be safer roads and reducing the roughly 42,000 U.S. traffic deaths that occur annually – 95 per cent of which he said are caused by human mistakes.

"We might be able to cut those numbers down by a factor of 50 per cent," Thrun said.

"Just imagine all the funerals that won't take place."

Other challenges include updating vehicle codes and figuring out who would be liable in a crash and how to cope with blown tires or obstacles in the road. But the systems could be developed to tell motorists about road conditions, warn of crashes or stopped vehicles ahead and prevent collisions in intersections.

Later versions of driverless technology could reduce jams by directing vehicles to space themselves close together, almost as if they were cars in a train, and maximize the use of space on a freeway, he said.

"It will really change society, very much like the transition from a horse to a car," Thrun said.

The U.S. government has pushed technology to help drivers avoid crashes, most notably electronic stability controls that help prevent rollovers. The systems are required on new passenger vehicles starting with the 2012 model year.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication and technology, allowing cars to talk with highway systems, could come next.

Still in debate are how to address drivers' privacy, whether current vehicles can be retrofitted and how many vehicles would be needing the systems to develop an effective network.

"Where it shakes out remains to be seen but there is no question we see a lot of potential there," said Rae Tyson, a spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Driverless cars by 2018?

The outlook: General Motors Corp. says that within the next 10 years it should be able to produce a car that drives itself. Other car companies and parts suppliers are working on similar systems.

How they might work: The plan is to use an inexpensive computer chip and an antenna to link vehicles equipped with radar-based cruise control, lane-change warning devices, electronic stability control, satellite global positioning systems and digital maps.

Possible effects: Such a system could prevent crashes and reduce congestion. Government regulations, liability laws and privacy concerns would need to be addressed.

Sensors: It knows what it's doing

Even the simplest car today can be filled with electronic sensors that monitor everything the car does from one fraction of a second to the next. Some monitors check how far the wheels are moving when you turn while others see what the car itself is doing when the wheels turn - if there's a mismatch, that's a problem.

Sensors in the brakes time each spin of each of the car's wheels. If you hit the brakes and a wheel slows down more quickly than it should, that's a sign your brakes are locking up and the sensors trigger the anti-lock brakes to start pumping to regain traction.

Other sensors will lay dormant for years, probably the entire life of your car, waiting for an impact that may never come. But if that impact ever does come, they'll trigger the airbags.

There are monitors watching your behavior as well. They watch how far and how hard you press the gas and how far you're turning the wheel.

Radar: It knows what's out there

While it's still usually found in luxury cars, radar is appearing in some less-espensive cars, too. The most common application is in back-up sensors. They simply warn you, as you're parking the car, when you're getting too close to something (or someone) behind you.

Active cruise control is also becoming more common. These systems allow you to set a maximum speed for your car and will then maintain a set distance behind slower cars ahead. That way you don't have to turn the cruise control off every time you're behind a slowpoke.

Most of these systems only work at highway speeds. But some, like the system created by Continental Tevis for the Mercedes-Benz S-class, actually work all the way down to a dead stop. If you're stuck in stop-and-go traffic, you need never touch the brakes or gas. The car does it all for you. When the traffic clears, off you go.

The safety benefit of these systems is that they prevent a common cause of crashes - tailgating.

Even if they don't do the driving for you, radar systems are also the bases for collision warning systems, like in the new Lexus LS, that watch the road ahead and warn the driver of an impending collision.

Cameras: It can see and read

On some more expensive luxury vehicles, cameras keep an eye on lane lines. If the car starts to cross over a line when the driver hasn't used a turn signal, an alarm sounds.

The trick with using cameras to assist drivers is that the cameras have to know what to look for. Lane lines are fairly simple. Some companies are developing systems that can read the numbers on speed limits signs so they can warn you if you're going too fast.

The Benz S-class uses an infrared camera and infrared light source to provide "night vision" capacity. The scene in front of the car is displayed in the center of the dashboard in green-and-black.

Still, all of these are aids to seeing. The driver still makes the final choice about whether to cross a lane marker or exceed the speed limit.
READ MORE - Self-Driving Car no longer Science Fiction
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Hydrogen Power becoming a Reality  

Real-world vehicles fuelled by hydrogen are finally arriving from Honda and BMW. But some experts insist they'll create more problems than they cure
Blues skies. Green trees. Birds chirping. That's the hydrogen fuel-cell car marketer's dream. But what's the reality?
For more than a decade, automakers have pushed the praises of hydrogen as the next big thing.

Car maker efforts have ranged from dabbling in hydrogen, Mazda with its 2004 RX-8 Hydrogen Rotary Engine concept, to Toyota parading its hydrogen-powered Highlander along the Alaska Highway, to more extensive test fleets: 100 Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell vehicles are scheduled to be delivered in the new year to families across the U.S. for a three-month review.

Beyond the test market, hydrogen-powered cars, vehicles that once appeared to be nothing more than an exercise in research and development, are finally arriving to the public. But the do-good cars, emitting only water and not emissions, could be riddled with more limits than advantages.

The headline-grabbing story at last month's Los Angeles auto show was the announcement of the Honda FCX Clarity, the world's first production fuel-cell car.

Starting next summer, a limited number of Californians will be able to lease a hydrogen car for 36 months as their daily driver. The cost? A respectable $600 per month.

The news one-upped BMW, which, until the announcement of the FCX, was leading the way in hydrogen development.

BMW's Hydrogen 7, based on the long-wheelbase 7 Series with a V12 internal combustion engine, can be powered by gasoline as well as liquid hydrogen. When it's running on hydrogen only, the result is no carbon dioxide emissions.
The major difference between the Honda and BMW? The 7 Series isn't for sale – yet.

Wilhelm Hall, BMW North America's general manager of environmental engineering, says the Hydrogen 7 is "production-ready," but that only 100 celebrities and politicians have received a loaner car for evaluation and to provide feedback.

Though Hall won't suggest when the car would make it to the public, he does hint at the cost of early hydrogen cars.

"I could see us selling it for around $250,000 in low numbers," Hall estimates. "But once we get to producing tens of thousands, the price goes down dramatically."

Hall says that unlike Honda's technology – the FCX's hydrogen is stored on board and processed into electricity via a fuel-cell stack that powers an electric engine – having a combustion engine in the Hydrogen 7 makes it seem closer to reality than a full-blown hydrogen car. "Fuel cells are simply not cost-effective," Hall says.

Despite the diverging technical paths, both BMW and Honda are professing the same utopian result: clean, clear water evaporating out of their hydrogen car tailpipes.

Dennis DesRosiers, a Canadian automotive industry analyst and president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, had firsthand experience with Honda's FCX Clarity at a test facility in Japan.

He thinks the hydrogen car's potential is reminiscent of the company's breakthrough CVCC engine in the 1970s. The technology helped Honda meet U.S. emission standards and improved fuel economy – without a catalytic converter.

But there's one catch: if Honda expands the availability of the FCX beyond California and BMW makes its Hydrogen 7 available to non-red-carpet types, DesRosiers says the biggest issue won't be product demand, but where to fuel a hydrogen car. The infrastructure, it seems, isn't up to speed with the progress of the technology.

According to, a website that tracks hydrogen refilling stations, there are only 10 certified filling stations in Canada (and those are used for industrial purposes), 38 in Europe and 49 in the U.S. (with more than half in California).

"The fact is, it's still hard to find diesel at the pumps," DesRosiers says.

Along with the L.A. auto show announcement of the production FCX, Honda tried to address the infrastructure problem with its experimental Home Energy Station, a self-contained unit that converts natural gas into hydrogen to fuel the FCX, and to supply electricity and hot water to a home.

But some experts don't think that's a good idea.

"Burning natural gas to create hydrogen has to be the dumbest way to deal with greenhouse gas effects," says Joseph Romm, author of The Hype about Hydrogen.

Romm is a former official at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency, and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees the blog He says that despite the billions spent annually on climate change, automakers just don't "get" global warming.

Energy reformers, such as Honda's experimental home system, only make sense on a large scale, Romm says. The true cost of hydrogen fuel from any home-filling station will be exponentially higher than gas at the pumps.

Honda also admits that the $600 monthly lease rate for the FCX doesn't cover the cost of building the car.

When the bill for hydrogen-car research and development, and the price to power fuel-cell cars outweighs the financial gains, why do automakers continue to invest in the alternative energy?

"Car companies don't want to look like they're against better solutions," Romm says.

Based on his experience, the solution to greenhouse gas emissions won't be solved by throwing money at new technologies.

"As a whole, I wouldn't stake my mortgage on hydrogen cars. The infrastructure solution is the wild card," Romm says.

The issue of filling stations is also part of the problem for BMW with its Hydrogen 7.

"We have the (vehicle) production figured out. We are more ready than the energy providers," says Hall.

"It's difficult in the U.S. In the long term, there's no vision or plan. Whereas in Europe, there's more public and political will for both a liquid and gas hydrogen infrastructure."

In a culture desperately looking for environmentally friendly transportation solutions, it's hard not to get excited about hydrogen-powered cars and their promise of clean, green transportation. But the automotive utopia is hard to pin down, DesRosiers says.

"Right now, I can count over 10 variations of propulsion being worked on – from efficient internal combustion engines to fuel cell."

Regardless of the technology, Romm argues the only immediate answer is to legislate higher fuel economy regulations.

"That means low-emission petroleum cars, either gasoline or diesel, are the only feasible short-term solution."

And as an alternative energy source "it has to be electricity," he says.

State laws pushing zero-emission cars now allow fuel cells

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cleared the way for auto makers to produce hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars, to help meet zero-emission vehicle requirements in California and 10 other states.

The EPA approved amendments adopted by the California Air Resources Board in 2003 that allow manufacturers to produce fuel cells as an alternative to the battery-powered cars and light trucks previously required by the state.

Since then, 10 other states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have adopted the same rules.

"This waiver simply reflects the prominence of fuel cells," says John Millett, an EPA spokesman.

California initially adopted its regulations in 1990, requiring by 2003 that 10 per cent of all new cars sold in the state by major manufacturers be zero-emission vehicles.

The rules have been modified several times since then. Currently, they call for 2 per cent of the six biggest auto makers' new cars to be zero-emission, 2 per cent to be gasoline-electric hybrids and 6 per cent to be super-low-polluting gasoline-powered vehicles, known as PZEVs (partial zero-emission vehicles).

The hybrid and PZEV requirements, which some smaller companies must also meet, took effect in 2005.

The 2 per cent requirement for fuel-cell- or battery-powered cars starts in 2009, with a ramp-up period that will require the industry to market at least 2,500 of the vehicles nationwide over the first three years of the program and larger numbers in subsequent years, says Jerry Martin, an CARB spokesman.

The programs allow manufacturers to produce either battery-powered or fuel-cell vehicles, which use hydrogen and oxygen to run an electric motor. But Martins doubts companies will opt for battery power.

"Battery technology has been moving forward and batteries are still zero-emission technology, but the car companies have made it very clear that fuel cells are the technology of the future," he says.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Dave Barthmuss says fuel-cell vehicles are "very viable to be a portion of any auto maker's compliance strategy."

"A lot of milestones are being met and a lot of progress is really being made" in developing the vehicles, he adds.

GM plans to put 100 fuel-cell vehicles on the road next year as a demonstration project.

But Barthmuss says the CARB should stay in line with the "pace of technology."

Jennifer Moore, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co., says there is still a lot of uncertainty about fuel-cell vehicles.

Ford, she added, agrees with a federal forecast that predicts the vehicles won't be available in large numbers before 2015.

"There are a lot of challenges that remain ahead for fuel-cell vehicles, everything from infrastructure to cost to range," she says.

"In terms of when they're going to be commercially viable, it's pretty difficult to say at this point."
READ MORE - Hydrogen Power becoming a Reality
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The Hydrogen Car  

When you test drive a hydrogen car you are expecting to get let down. You expect it to be horrible.

I think it is because we know electric cars are crap, so we don't know what to expect when we sit behind the wheel of a car fueled by hydrogen. We tend to forget hydrogen is explosive and is the active part of gasoline. Remember the Hindenburg explosion? That was hydrogen power.

But instead hydrogen cars these days are becoming rather... ordinary.

They are getting to be so ordinary, so much like any other vehicle in the way they drive, that you start thinking you ought to just go get one. After all, they issue no pollutants because there is no carbon, and they go about twice as far as gasoline vehicles do on the same amount of energy.
The vehicles themselves use no petroleum (commonly called gasoline in North America), though producing the hydrogen requires electricity using processes like steam reforming and electrolysis.

I won't bore you with the technical ways hydrogen is made, collected and store. The point is that it is being done, and cheaply too.

Automakers' grand design is that energy suppliers eventually will make hydrogen using renewable energy such as biomass, hydroelectricity, solar, wind and even tides.

At its current stage fuel-cell vehicles are pretty expensive. They're still being tested. Even four years from now, when the first HFC cars will be in auto dealerships they'll still probably be more expensive than the regular cars. Thankfully the price is going to be government-subsidized leases instead of selling them outright.

As mass production comes into play the prices will drop dramatically.

Right now there are almost no fuel-cell vehicles are available, but it doesn't matter because there are almost no hydrogen filling stations anyway.

But that is about to change in 2008, which is to be a watershed year.

Honda has designed a new hydrogen fuel-cell car. It is a sleek, four-door, compact, front-drive sedan that it plans to lease to as many as 100 consumers in the USA next year.

General Motors, not to be out done, is distributing about 100 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs converted to fuel-cell operation to individuals for three months at a time over the next three years. They'll be parceled out around Los Angles, New York City and Washington, D.C., places where there are hydrogen fueling stations. It's called Project Driveway.

The Equinoxes will go to people considered influential, celebrities and politicians mostly.

But let's talk about the car itself.

# Performance: Fast off the line, satisfactory at higher speed. Hydrogen-Electric motors have a delightful trait. They deliver all of the torque INSTANTLY. No revving required, the way you'd have to do in a gasoline engine only better. The car ends up feeling a bit like a racer. The transmission has but a single speed. No shifting. Just a continuing ramp of constant power.

# Noise: Not much, and that's a big deal. You won't be able to show off how loud your engine is to your date. The early hydrogen prototypes had a whine sound but that has been fixed by installing a big, gutsy supercharger. That has practically eliminated the howl.

# Appearance: Similar to the conventional, gasoline-fueled, 2007 Equinox with a couple of notable exceptions.

Instead of round tailpipes out back, the fuel-cell version has four rectangular slots in what car folks call the rear fascia. That's the part that looks like it's the bumper but really is just a plastic covering.

GM says they wanted to distinguish it from the gasoline vehicles.

Inside, trim and touches unique to the fuel-cell vehicles give it a premium look and feel compared with the gasoline Equinox, which is a bit disappointing inside in spite of the upgraded materials and controls.

# Function and Safety: About the same as a gasoline model. The rear cargo area is compromised a bit because the third of three hydrogen tanks sits higher than the two in front of it, putting a horizontal bulge behind the rear seats, about where you might want space for beach chairs or big bags.

And in what might be contrary to popular belief, hydrogen almost certainly is a safer fuel than gasoline. If you spill gasoline at the filling station, for instance, it pools and the volatile vapors concentrate. If you spill hydrogen, it evaporates into the atmosphere at 40 mph because it's lighter than air.
Overall the Equinox was a fun ride. Handled like a regular car and I thought that maybe they were pulling a fast one on me. I had to check and make certain it wasn't a regular gasoline engine under the hood.

And that's a good thing.
READ MORE - The Hydrogen Car
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