If anyone has in mind cars like the Toyota Mirai or Honda Clarity as tame examples of fuel cell vehicles, the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 certainly breaks that stereotype.
Better suited for a new age Rambo, the collaboration between GM and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is being featured at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).
The truck is to be tested like a practical new toy by the Army next year, but General Motors hints to consumers they may get some of this technology in due time.
“Despite military-like front lights, the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 fuel cell electric vehicle was developed with the off-road market, not specifically the military, in mind,” said GM.
As for its present mission, for years now the U.S. Department of Defense has funded alternative fuel powertrain to break diesel and gasoline dependence which can effectively cost hundreds of dollars per gallon in hot military zones. FCVs, like EVs, also are naturally stealthy while delivering high torque with no engine noise, and they may serve as portable power as an extra added bonus.
Standing six-and-a-half feet high, and riding on 37-inch tires, plans next year are for the U.S. Army to test the 4WD go-anywhere FCV truck in “extreme field conditions to “determine the viability of hydrogen-powered vehicles on military missions.”
Like battery electric vehicles, the FCV allows field portable electricity into remote regions via an Exportable Power Take-Off unit (EPTO) providing 25kw to 50kw of electric power away from the vehicle,
“The speed with which innovative ideas can be demonstrated and assessed is why relationships with industry are so important to the Army,” said Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC. “Fuel cells have the potential to expand the capabilities of Army vehicles significantly through quiet operation, exportable power and solid torque performance, all advances that drove us to investigate this technology further.”
According to Chevrolet, the Army will evaluate the ZH2 fuel cell for:
• Near-silent operation enabling silent watch capability
• Reduced acoustic and thermal signatures
• High wheel torque at all speeds via electric drive
• Low fuel consumption across operating range
• Water by-product for field uses
The collaboration by GM and TARDEC goes back several years, and the automaker has periodically featured other projects.
Noteable also is that in June, the U.S. Navy revealed a GM fuel cell-powered Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) that is now undergoing pool testing before eventual deployment. That submersible leverages common fuel cell technology with the Colorado ZH2.
Chevrolet observes it and TARDEC have locations just 20 miles apart in Michigan, and most of the experimental truck was assembled in GM’s Advanced Vehicle Integration facility in Warren.
The automaker will continue calibration testing at GM’s Milford Proving Ground into early 2017, at which point the Colorado ZH2 will be turned over to the Army for a year of field testing.
“The Colorado ZH2 is a terrific example of GM’s engineering and design skill in creating an off-road vehicle relevant to a range of potential users,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities. “Over the next year, we expect to learn from the Army the limits of what a fuel cell propulsion system can do when really put to the test.”
Of interest to consumers is GM has tallied 3.1 million miles of hydrogen FCV testing via Project Driveway, a 119-vehicle fleet driven by more than 5,000 people in a multi-year fuel cell experience program.
What this means for cars we may eventually buy is not stated by GM, but the automaker in July 2013 announced it and Honda were working toward an end-of-decade time frame.
“We’ve said our next-generation fuel cell system will be ready to support a production vehicle in the 2020 time frame,” said Alan Adler, of the automaker’s Fuel Cells and R&D Communications. “We have not announced a vehicle program. The ZH2 is an Army demonstrator and all we are announcing today.”
Unanswered also is how the advent of battery electric cars gaining much greater market traction will play into this penciled in timeline.
Meanwhile, GM has a zero-emission truck whose imposing presence would be the envy of off-roaders, and this is all leading somewhere for GM, the military, and presumably the rest of us.