GM r&d plan still includes hydrogen fuel cells

Automotive News reports on GM's work on a fuel cell vehicle.

Automotive News

DETROIT--General Motors is still striving to prepare a fuel cell power train for production around 2012, says the company's new research and development chief.

"Technology leadership is one of the pillars of the company. That is going to remain, and it will probably be emphasized as part of the brand of GM," says Alan Taub, executive director of GM r&d.

Taub, 54, takes over for Larry Burns, 58, who retires Oct. 1.

GM has significantly reduced the size and cost of its fuel cell stack, which produces electricity from hydrogen. The latest generation fits in the same space as the company's four-cylinder Ecotech engine.

But the future of fuel cells is uncertain in part because the United States would have to spend billions of dollars to create a fueling infrastructure for hydrogen. And the Obama administration has little enthusiasm for hydrogen.

Taub, who has a Ph.D. in applied physics, spent 15 years in research at General Electric before working for Ford Motors. He joined GM in 2001. Taub reports to product development chief Tom Stephens.

In an interview with Automotive News, Taub declined to reveal the cuts in the r&d budget in the automaker's Chapter 11 reorganization.

He said he will reduce the number of programs that GM's engineers and scientists are working on. In the near term, improving fuel economy tops Taub's to-do list as GM works to meet the government-mandated 35.5 mpg fleet fuel economy standard in the 2016 model year.

One of Taub's key goals is to replace funds by soliciting more advanced engineering work from governments around the world. He said GM already has won a number of government research contracts.

Taub said GM still has to reduce the cost of fuel cells by 30 percent to make them competitive with the upcoming Chevrolet Volt's gasoline-electric power train.

Also, the cost of conventional power trains is rising because of increased fuel economy standards and tighter emissions regulations.

Reducing production costs through flexible tooling is another area GM is looking at to save money.

Said Taub: "Volumes per model have dropped precipitously. We have to get not just lean; we have to get agile. We are not as far advanced on manufacturing."

(Source: Automotive News)