General Motors just celebrated the 50 year anniversary of its Electrovan test project, which the automaker says was the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
The idea behind launching the test van was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to NASA to safely land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, said Floyd Wyczalek, project manager of Electrovan fuel cell development. The Electrovan was carried out to explore hydrogen as an energy source for vehicle propulsion.
“We had three shifts of people on this project starting in January 1966 and finishing 10 months later,” Wyczalek, 91, said. “We had one running demo for the Progress of Power press conference in October that year.”
Driving acceleration and top speed tests were conducted on a chassis dynamometer, Wyczalek said.
The technical art above shows the Electrovan’s interior crammed with fuel cell componentry that left room for only a driver and two passengers.
After the project ended, the Electrovan was stored for 31 years in a Pontiac, Mich., warehouse. After being rediscovered in 2001, it was used in fuel cell displays and loaned to museums when not at home in the GM Heritage Center.
GM said it’s invested more than $2.5 billion in hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company has been a patent leader along with Honda, its partner since 2013 in developing a next-generation fuel cell system.
Several fuel cell demo programs have helped GM build up more than 3.1 million miles of real-world experience on modern fuel cell systems, the company said in the press release. In 2014, GM reported that its fleet of Chevy Equinox fuel cell SUVs had been driven over three million miles since the test project started in 2007.
GM has added its fuel cell technology to several U.S. military test projects. On Oct. 3 at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exhibition in Washington, D.C., GM debuted its latest fuel cell demo. The Army will be testing the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, an off-road midsize fuel cell pickup, in extreme conditions next year.
“We see broad potential for fuel cell systems in military, aerospace and other applications while we continue on the path to a commercial vehicle,” said Charlie Freese, executive director, GM Global Fuel Cell Business. “It is pretty special to celebrate the Electrovan’s 50th anniversary.”
Still, GM hasn’t announced a launch date for a hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicle.