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GM FastLane:The “Moon Shotâ€�

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Bob Lutz

By Bob Lutz

GM Vice Chairman

You may have heard by now that last week I told media assembled at our press event in Southern California that GM has big plans for fuel cell technology. The journalists were on hand for their first drive of our landmark Sequel fuel cell vehicle. I told them that this technology was our equivalent of a moon shot and that I’d recommend that we put fuel cell vehicles into production as soon as possible.

That’s all true. I think we should and will do exactly that. But any speculation as to exactly when we will do it and exactly how much it will cost is just that: pure speculation.

What we’ve announced so far is this: we are now launching a fleet of 100-plus vehicles to demonstrate our fuel cell capabilities and raise national awareness of the potential of the hydrogen economy. Assuming we can maintain the great progress we’ve made hitting the cost targets of our fuel cell program, the next step would be about a 1000-vehicle fleet in the 2010-2012 time frame. Then if cost and infrastructure barriers were removed, or at least significantly reduced, we’d look at more significant numbers later in the decade.

The point is, this all sounds like science fiction right now, but I assure you it isn’t. Most journalists were duly impressed with what they drove, declaring the driving experience to be just like “a normal car.” And that’s the goal. All along, we’ve staunchly maintained that we wouldn’t produce fuel cell vehicles unless they matched or bettered the performance, handling and comfort of internal combustion-powered cars and trucks. Well, we think we’re just about there.

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Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicle

Our goal is to be the first manufacturer to put 1 million fuel cell vehicles on the road — profitably — in the global automotive market. The key word there is “global.” Like I said last week, China may be better equipped to switch to the hydrogen economy than the U.S., since they’re significantly less developed and would have a far easier time of it. To really get the ball rolling in the U.S., automakers, suppliers, government and the energy companies have to work together and work quickly. There’s simply no other way.

Let it also be known that we’re not putting all of our eggs in the hydrogen basket. It’s going to take time to make the hydrogen economy a reality, and we have several other alternatives in the works in the meantime, beginning with the expansion of our E85 offerings, and the expansion of our hybrid lineup, as you know. That will be highlighted by the addition of our two-mode hybrid full-size SUVs next year.

We are also studying plug-in hybrids, and will have more to say about those soon. The whole key there is the development of significantly improved battery technology. But rest assured I truly believe that electric-drive vehicles have a real future in this country and around the world; the only question is the nature of the power source or sources.

We’ll have architectures that will be flexible enough to accommodate a number of different sources.

And yes, believe it or not, this really is Bob Lutz talking! We are sitting on the cusp of an explosion of new technology that will change the automotive industry like nothing since its very invention. I never would’ve believed it, but I must say I’m excited to be a part of it.



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