May 16, 2007 / 1:09 AM / 12 years ago

GM says to have fuel cell vehicles in showrooms by 2012

TARRYTOWN, New York (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. will likely have vehicles powered by fuel cells in showrooms by 2012, an executive said on Tuesday, giving a target more aggressive than other automakers working on similar technology have stated.

Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, said he was unsure of how many of the vehicles, which run on hydrogen and emit only water vapor, would be produced initially.

“I don’t know how many of them we’ll make at the time, but we should have them in showrooms by early next decade, around 2011 or 2012,” Burns told reporters. “Post-2012, the goal is to ramp up production to about a million vehicles a year, worldwide.”

Burns was speaking to reporters in Tarrytown, New York, after having driven the fuel-cell powered Chevrolet Sequel 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen.

“This was the first fuel-cell vehicle to drive 300 miles on one tank of hydrogen on public roads,” Burns said. “This truly represents the new DNA of automotive technology.”

The Chevrolet Sequel, a sport utility vehicle with a tank that can carry eight kilograms of hydrogen, or the equivalent of 16 gallons of gasoline, is powered with lithium-ion batteries.

Burns said the major challenges in bringing fuel-cell vehicles to mass production include further development of lithium-ion batteries, lowering the cost of the technology and building infrastructure for fueling the vehicles.

“We need to bring the cost down, we hope to make it cost-competitive with the regular internal combustion engines,” Burns said. “We need a network of hydrogen fueling stations and we need advanced engineering work to have consistency of temperature throughout the battery pack,” he said.

Industry experts have expressed concern about the lithium-ion batteries, which are used in laptops, because they have a tendency to overheat.

GM plans to place 100 models of the next generation of its fuel-cell vehicle, called the Chevrolet Equinox, with consumers by the end of 2008.

The automaker is also working on an electric vehicle, called the Chevrolet Volt, with a production target of 2009.

Other automakers such as DaimlerChrysler AG, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co Ltd have said they do not expect their fuel cell vehicles to hit showrooms until the middle of the next decade.

GM, which is trying to overcome its reputation for focusing on gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, is making Chevrolet — the brand with the highest volume — the nameplate for its electric and fuel-cell vehicles.

“We have the Chevrolet brand in many different countries, that’s one reason we are using that name,” Burns said. “We also want to position these alterative systems as something affordable to everyone instead of associating it with an upscale brand.”

Reporting by Jui Chakravorty, editing by Gary Hill; 313-598-5949

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