Every major automaker is working on some kind of hydrogen-powered vehicle, and the Los Angeles Auto Show is the venue for this research. GM, Honda, Ford, BMW, and Nissan gave the public a taste of what they've accomplished so far.
Ford brought its hydrogen fuel-cell Explorer to the Los Angeles Auto Show, and its specifications were an impressive surprise. Although the car at the show has only a 5,000psi hydrogen tank, Ford is about to fit it with a new 10,000psi tank that holds 10 kilograms of hydrogen, giving it a range of 350 miles. With two 65-kilowatt motors providing power to all wheels, it moves forward without sluggishness.
Ford put effort into reducing noise and vibration in this test vehicle and made the cabin seem like the fuel-cell Explorer is ready for production. Interior space is only slightly compromised by the hydrogen storage tank, which runs down the former transmission tunnel. The diagnostic display is neatly programmed with an energy flow diagram.
GM brought the recently launched Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell vehicle to the Los Angeles Auto Show. This car is so refined that GM is making a fleet of 100 Equinoxes available to various public entities in California next year, with 50 deployed around Los Angeles. The Equinox has three tanks storing 4.2 kilograms of hydrogen at 10,000psi, giving it a range of about 200 miles.
The cabin of the Equinox is comfortable, and the car hauls four people around city streets without a problem. As with all electrically driven cars, the Equinox runs quietly, with only the sound of various fans audible. A graphic display on the car's diagnostic LCD shows power flow through the fuel-cell stack.
Looking like a more futuristic Prius, the Honda FCX is Honda's latest-generation hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. Honda has made great strides in refining the power train, which can drive 350 miles on its stored 5 kilograms of hydrogen in 5,000psi tanks, according to Honda's estimates. The car uses a 95-kilowatt motor.
BMW took a completely different tack when it built the Hydrogen7. This hydrogen/gasoline hybrid can burn either fuel in its 6-liter V-12 engine. Unlike the fuel-cell research vehicles, the Hydrogen7 could be maintained by a private owner, as long as there were hydrogen stations around to refuel it.
The Hydrogen7 differs little from a regular BMW 7-series from the cabin. There is a button labeled H2 on the steering wheel that switches the fuel source, and that's about it. BMW uses liquid hydrogen in the Hydrogen7, which has the advantage of requiring less space and pressure than gaseous hydrogen, but must be kept at temperatures around minus 250 degrees Celsius.
Nissan's FCV hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle was built in 2003, so it's a little older than the others on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It uses 5,000psi tanks that give it a range of a little more than 200 miles. An 85-kilowatt motor provides power to the wheels.