Byron McCormick is executive director of General Motor's Fuel Cell Activities. AutoblogGreen sat down with McCormick during a break at the recent Sequel drive for journalists in Southern California. In this first of a 2-part interivew, McCormick discusses the advantages of hydrogen and what consumers may expect when GM offers a production fuel-cell vehicle.
AutoblogGreen: Since electricity is needed to produce hydrogen, wouldn't it be a better model to put the electricity directly into the car and skip the fuel-cell process?
McCormick: We started with an electric vehicle with the EV1, so we know a lot about that. The real issue about putting electricity directly into a car is how good can the battery be? With available technologies, you have limited capability to get range. At the end of the day we don't discount the idea of electric cars, it all depends on how far battery technology gets. Once you go to the architecture we talked about today, you basically have an electric vehicle. As batteries come along, the ability to put more batteries in there will make it a plug-in.
AutoblogGreen: A critic might ask, had GM dedicated the money it's spending on hydrogen toward battery development, would you be at the point today that you could have enough power and charge?
McCormick: Batteries will always be somewhat limited in what you can do. Nice thing about a fuel cell is that it's really the same thing as a battery except you've taken the chemicals outside. If I want more energy, I want to go further, I add storage and the fuel cell stays the same. With a battery, you add more and more batteries. The idea that all cars can go electric is not a viable answer in the future. But there are a lot of niche markets where batteries are an interesting alternative.
AutoblogGreen: Is the Gen IV powertrain what we'll see in the 2010 Sequel?
McCormick: No, what's in the Sequel now is, as I stand here today, old technology. The 100 vehicles that we'll release next year (Equinox), that's the same technology that's in the current Sequel. The reason for that was all the crash testing and all the development we had to do with suppliers. There is no supply base out there for this stuff, so we knew we had a longer period of time where the suppliers had to learn what we demand.
AutoblogGreen: What will we see when we walk into our Chevy dealer in 2010?
McCormick: If they told me today to freeze technology and go for 2010, what I showed in a mockup (facsimile rendition of fuel cell that was about the size of a 4-cylinder engine) is more like it. The weight would be about that of an internal combustion engine and transmission and the volume could be packaged in a conventional car.
AutoblogGreen: On the skateboard platform, is there a limit to the size of a vehicle?
McCormick:Where that skateboard is really going is to electric corners to have wheel motors at four corners, which frees up more space. There are a lot of design flexibilities.
AutoblogGreen: Today's vehicles have gotten incredibly heavy. How are you addressing mass in fuel cell vehicles?
McCormick: We're well on our way with that. The compressed tanks will still be a little bit heavy but nothing to the extent we're talking about with the Equinox.
AutoblogGreen: Are there any more promising storage solutions coming down the road?
McCormick: There are whole classes of materials that we're working on.
AutoblogGreen: Would that require a change in the infrastructure?
Tomorrow: McCormick discusses the hydrogen infrastructure, who will be the first customers and fuel-cell maintenance.