Clean Cars: The Next Generation

It’s been a momentous year for cleaner vehicles (see “Getting There: A Guide to Planet-Friendly Cars,” Consumer News, July/August 2004). DaimlerChrysler rolled out the first plug-in hybrid, albeit as a test vehicle, and announced it would soon import the fuel-sipping Smart city car. Several more manufacturers, including Ford, added new hybrids to their fleets. And the race to bring a fuel-cell car to market is getting hotter, as Honda and General Motors unveiled the latest versions of their hydrogen prototypes.

The Chevrolet Sequel can travel 300 miles on eight kilograms of highly compressed hydrogen.© JIM MOTAVALLI

The sleek Honda FCX can reportedly travel 350 miles on five kilograms of hydrogen. A version of the FCX may be on the market in three or four years on a limited basis.

GM is putting journalists behind the wheel of its Sequel, which looks like a fairly streamlined crossover SUV. But driving it is like nothing else: EVs (fuel-cell cars are really electric cars) tend to be slow and plodding, but the Sequel peels out, zooming to 60 mph in only 10 seconds. The Sequel’s 300-mile range is made possible by the car’s six kilograms of 10,000 pounds-per-square-inch hydrogen storage.

GM will produce 100 of its also-all-new Chevy Equinox fuel-cell vehicles for testing in three cities next fall. According to GM’s Greg Cesul, they will offer redundant safety systems that make it very unlikely a fuel-cell car will ever catch fire, let alone explode like the Hindenburg.