Chevy Volt Hydrogen

Remember the Volt? GM rolled it out in Detroit a few months ago as an electric-dominant plug-in hybrid that would recharge overnight when you plugged it into a regular household outlet.

Now in Shanghai, GM says it’s got a hydrogen fuel-cell approach for the Volt, which it’s dubbing the second variant of the E-Flex system. That’s a mouthful. It would combine “GM’s new fifth-generation fuel-cell propulsion technology” (hard to believe they’re on the fifth generation already; my, how they’ve grown) and a lithium-ion battery. For those of you who’ve been following the Volt story, you know GM hasn’t quite got that battery yet. It’s betting it will be developed in time for the Volt to be delivered around 2009 or 2010.

The big difference with the fuel cell is that this car will not use any gas; the earlier version used a gas engine to charge the battery when the electric charge ran out. The fuel-cell version, GM says, will still plug in to a household outlet and should go about 300 miles of, as they say, “petroleum- and emissions-free electric driving.”

GM says the fifth-generation fuel-cell system is only half the size of its previous fuel-cell system, something that offers even more hope for the future as engineers find ways to make these systems smaller, lighter and more efficient. The automaker also says these advancements mean fuel cells should be taken seriously as a power source for the future; we can’t prove otherwise, but fuel cells have been talked about for an awfully long time and have yet to make much of a splash in the consumer automotive world. And, as GM itself points out, without hydrogen fueling stations across the country, cars with these kinds of systems aren’t going anywhere.

Still, a car that runs totally on electricity and goes 300 miles between charges? Should save drivers a ton of money on gas, and help clean the air (though we’re still burning coal in many cases to supply the electricity in the first place). For drivers who only have short commutes, the fuel-cell Volt may be the answer they need. The question is, how long before it arrives for real at dealers, and how much will it cost?

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