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GM are looking to the future
July 9, 2002 3:35 PM   Subscribe

GM are looking to the future with plans to get a fuel cell vehicle (dubbed AUTOnomy) on the road by 2010, unlike past attempts where fuel cell powerplants were shoe-horned into conventional cars GM are redesigning it from the ground up with a six inch flat chassis that contains the fuel cell and powertrain allowing them to plonk a variety of different bodies on top all the while cutting costs by being far simpler to produce than conventional cars.
posted by zeoslap (16 comments total)

 
Call me cynical, but whats the big deal? 10 years ago GM and the rest were doing research into hybrid autos. Honda has one in the showroom as of last year and GOP Senators a couple months ago were telling the electorate that smaller cars equal dangerous cars.

The problem certainly isn't tech, we can make the 80 mpg car today. The problem is big oil and bought and paid-for opinions which keep tech down. Maybe they'll make a fuel cell that can power an SUV? Certainly no one wants an 'unsafe' car.
posted by skallas at 4:11 PM on July 9, 2002


Maybe they'll make a fuel cell that can power an SUV?
Bah. Let's just A-Team a Civic until it looks like a tank.
posted by Kikkoman at 4:25 PM on July 9, 2002


The point is the hybrids cost a lot to build so the manufacturers really only build them to placate the enviromentalists, AUTOnomy finally makes building these things seem like a good idea to the auto makers because they can make even more money from them than conventional vehicles and they get bunko brownie points for releasing a green car. Auto makers couldn't care less about big oil or the environment, they want to make money, and this idea could be win win for everyone (cept the oil companies)
posted by zeoslap at 4:26 PM on July 9, 2002


Auto makers couldn't care less about big oil or the environment

Automakers sure care about oil. Its cheap and its delivers a lot of power. Joe Sixpack wants 220+ HP regardless of how he uses his car. Auto ads are all about power and style.

The point is the hybrids cost a lot to build

Why exactly would the AUTOnomy vaporware be necessarily cheaper than the hybrid engines of today? We're talking very high tech here and a completely new infrastructure to deliver whatever they decide to power it with. Unless of course its powered with gas, which is an option with fuel cells.
posted by skallas at 4:40 PM on July 9, 2002


Did you even read the article ? and I quote...

"Every engine GM makes requires its own factory, and every car model a unique set of running gear. Fuel cells, on the other hand, easily scale. "You can make a 25-kilowatt fuel cell stack and a 1,000-kilowatt stack in the same plant" by adding or subtracting layers of membrane, GM's Burns says. And the AUTOnomy has no mechanical running gear. Everything needed to power and control the car is built into the skateboard chassis. This means fewer factories devoted to manufacturing the car's power source, and no factories at all making steering and braking hardware. Moreover, a single chassis can serve as the basis of every GM model from sports car to SUV, which means economies of scale that Henry Ford could never have imagined"

With regards infrastructure they are developing gasolene fuel cells as an interim but the key is that they are targetting developing countries that don't have the gas infrastructure we take for granted (China for example) not to mention working on technologies that would enable you to produce Hydrogen at home...
posted by zeoslap at 4:47 PM on July 9, 2002


With regards automakers caring about oil they don't, they care about the bottom line, and if they can sell these things and make more money than before they'd turn their backs on oil in a heartbeat.
posted by zeoslap at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2002


Yes I read the article.

I still don't see how this is cheaper than a hybrid engine. Granted the hypothetical proposal does sound more efficient but that doesn't mean the fuel cell is necessarily cheaper than the hybrid if the fuel cell itself requires more exotic materials or man hours to manufacture.

Also hybrids and electric engines have benefits regarding retrieving energy lost during braking. My point is that reliable and gas-saving technology is here and its been more or less snubbed. Today's R&D sounds just as nice as yesterday's R&D but practical application is a completely different story. Then again I'm arguing against vaporware. You can keep quoting PR promises and I can keep giving facts.

I'm interested to know what inherently is wrong with the hybrid of today that keeps it from catching on other than the reasons I've listed - monied interests, how cars are sold/advertised, politics, and things the consumer wants like LOTS of power and LOTS of space. The AUTOnomy, unless it can deliver an SUV-like experience is probably doomed to fail or become a niche item like the Honda Insight.

Fuel cells are not magical. The energy needed to move the weight of a 7 seater SUV at a speed consumers will like still costs money. It may be cleaner but your monthly gas/hydrogen/whatever bill will be about the same.

The only real difference between todays ultra-efficient cars and tomorrow's vaporware is that you can assume in the vague land of tomorrow there is a gas shortage which will skyrocket gas prices and make these things more attractive to the average buyer.
posted by skallas at 5:20 PM on July 9, 2002


I'm interested to know what inherently is wrong with the hybrid of today that keeps it from catching on other than the reasons I've listed - monied interests, how cars are sold/advertised, politics, and things the consumer wants like LOTS of power and LOTS of space.

It's very simple. The Honda Civic Hybrid costs $20k and gets 50 mpg. The Honda Civic LX Sedan costs $15k, is comparably equipped, and gets 40 mpg. If you drive 15 thousand miles a year (a bit above average) and spend $2 a gallon on gas, the hybrid saves you $150 a year. If you get a five year loan, you'll spend $1000 a year to save $150. What's the point?
posted by jaek at 6:28 PM on July 9, 2002


Real life trips in the Insight (the car I mentioned not the civic hybrid) give about 80+mpg, not 60.

According to the EPA it gets 68 mpg highway (manual trans) and the 2002 Civic according to the EPA gets 37 mpg highway. That's almost double according to the EPA and much more according to owners.

Granted, that won't make the Insight a cheaper buy then again it isn't mass produced on the scale of the Civic yet, if ever.
posted by skallas at 7:31 PM on July 9, 2002


I specifically chose the Civic Hybrid because it provides the best way to look at the benefits from hybrid technology as opposed to the benefits of miniscule two-seaters with real-time fuel-economy gauges in the hands of nerds (a label I wear with pride, btw). Apples to apples and all that.

I wish that the US would abolish the current CAFE regime (which is pretty much directly responsible for the upsurge in popularity of SUVs) and jack up the tax on gasoline. I'd like it more if they instituted a fixed rebate so the tax was revenue neutral, but if push came to shove I could live without that.

Our society is pretty good at figuring out how to make the most money with the least effort. Providing incentives to make things more environmentally sound and letting people figure out how to do it is always going to be more effective than trying to mandate whatever the technology of the day seems to be.
posted by jaek at 8:11 PM on July 9, 2002


Providing incentives to make things more environmentally sound and letting people figure out how to do it is always going to be more effective than trying to mandate whatever the technology of the day seems to be.

I never advocating mandating or really anything else. The point of my posts is that the tech is here, but the people/politicians/industry are not willing. Future tech, if current history is a guide, will probably be just as marginalized until a catastrophe like a massive oil shortage changes everyone's mind.
posted by skallas at 8:45 PM on July 9, 2002


What I took away from the article was the fact that the current way of thinking about clean vehicles was that they're a mere doff of the cap to the environmentalists but the automakers resent making them because they are more expensive to manufacture and provide the consumer a compromised package.

The AUTOnomy seemed unique in as much that GM believes or at least says they believe that a vehicle like this, which they can manufacture easier and more cost effectively than traditional vehicles makes valid economic sense to them, it doesn't rely on gas prices sky rocketing it just relies on the fact that needing a new factory for every new engine or transmission will remain expensive. They see it as a way of offering the consumer what they want (a cool vehicle) whilst also maximizing their profits (something that can't be said of the current crop of hybrids), it just seems a much more realistic approach to cleaner vehicles rather than having the gubmint mandate them to do comply, and yes it is vaporware but the sentiment rang true, as skallas said the tech is here but the will is not, I think this way of approaching the problem may provide the will.
posted by zeoslap at 9:31 PM on July 9, 2002


I currently drive a Buick Le Sabre with a V6. (Got it from my uncle and got a fine deal on it.) It has 145,000 miles on it and needs new struts and some body work, but it runs pretty well. Nevertheless I was thinking about replacing it with a smaller car, partially because, well, living in a place where the environment is worth preserving, I'm starting to see what the fuss is about. I was floored to discover that your typical "economy" cars get around 30-32 MPG highway. Just last week, in the Buick, I got 27 MPG, and that included a trip over the mountain pass and a lot of city driving too.

I'm not entirely sure I want to stuff myself into a deathtrap to get three to five MPG better fuel economy and a little easier time parking. Maybe for 50-70 MPG I'd do it. Looks like my next car won't be a hybrid, it'll probably be another midsize sedan like I have now, but maybe the one after that.
posted by kindall at 12:45 AM on July 10, 2002


There was, amazingly, some interesting discussion on this yesterday on slashdot, including a lot of talk of relative merits of the different "alternative" fuel system vehicles in production.

Kindall: Current hybrids are a good deal better than standard "economy" mileage. I'm not sure about the Civic, but the Prius will give you 50+ mpg. A Volkswagen with a DIY diesel engine will give you close to that as well. The Honda Insight will push 70 or more, but... I have doubts about how practical that car is. That said, a Le Sabre that gets 27 mpg is pretty impressive.
posted by tingley at 7:32 AM on July 10, 2002


Why diesels are not your friend, including direct injection diesels.
posted by NortonDC at 7:46 AM on July 10, 2002


First of all, apologies for lumping the DIY vehicles in with hybrids, which was accidental.

About diesel health issues, I'm not sure what to think -- I've heard the arguments before, and they're always countered by claims about the refining standards on diesel fuel in the US (which are low compared to gasoline, and low compared to diesel in Europe). This is usually cited as the source of problems with sulfur and NOx emissions in diesel. There's also ongoing (in Europe, obviously) research into reducing particulate output, and maybe a bit of sudden doubt about the dangers of ultrafine particulates from gasoline exhaust (or maybe that's just FUD from the diesel camp). It's enough make me wonder if the situation is really that intractable.

I don't doubt for a second that diesel vehicles I see on the street are probably not, at the moment, my friend. I'm just not convinced that we are incapable of developing a meaningful relationship at some point in the future.
posted by tingley at 8:49 AM on July 10, 2002


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