Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Test Driving a Hydrogen Car

Knowing that environmentally friendly cars aren't the silver bullet that is going to solve all of our transportation problems (cleaner cars will probably increase demand for automobiles and could worsen sprawl and congestion) wasn't enough to stop me from taking the chance to test drive one today at a luncheon held by the Women's Transportation Seminar of Greater Los Angeles. Silver Bullet or not, its pretty cool to drive a car that has water vents instead of a tail pipe.

Before getting behind the wheel, there was a presentation given by Tim Powers of GM. Powers explained the difficulties in marketing the car and the timeline before the cars could be released to the general public. He anticipates that the engineering will be ready by 2011, but a release to the general public could be postponed if power companies and local utilities are slow to have stations for people to recharge their batteries. Currently there are only 9 places to recharge such a car in the Greater Los Angeles area, and that's assuming the area goes as far South as UC Irvine.

GM plans to release 110 Hydrogen powered Equinox's in 2008 to test drivers to begin piloting the program. Test drivers will include some businesses, Disney, limo services, and some regular commuters. The Equinox was chosen because GM wanted to show that this technology is going to be available to all vehicles, not just smaller ones like the Volt.

But enough with the presentation, onto the test drive. If I hadn't been told that it was a Hydrogen Car, I wouldn't have known it except that it was so darned quiet. The car handled well, accelerated like a normal car, and braked like a normal car. Given the choice between this and my last GM car, I would certainly take this.

All of that being said, we're a long way from actually seeing these cars on the road. Even if all went as planned, the original general release wouldn't be at prices that many people could afford...it probably wouldn't be until 2015 (at the earliest) that us mortals would be able to purchase them. After that, it would be at least another decade until there were enough of them in circulation to really improve air quality.

In other words, even if these cars were silver bullets, its still incumbent that we pursue policies to reduce auto-dependency. But it is nice to know that in the future, the cars that are still on the road will be cleaner, quieter and better than the ones we see now.

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