The town of Honeoye Falls, NY, got a jolt on October 5, when General Motors announced it would be closing down its fuel-cell research facility there. The 220 GM employees were given the opportunity to move to Pontiac, MI, where GM will be consolidating its fuel cell program to capitalize on "synergies" with the automaker's Global Powertrain Engineering headquarters.
It's a real loss for Honeoye Falls, near Rochester, NY, which was counting on having skilled, high-paid employees living in the area. It had been cited by local officials and business leaders as an example of how well things were going for the area's high-tech business.
From GM's perspective, it makes sense to consolidate operations to continue its focus on electric vehicles and fuel cells. Fuel cell vehicles are lagging behind electric vehicles in product planning, but GM has been fascinated with this technology for years. Its first efforts began in 1969, and more attention was given to the technology staring in the late 1990s.
GM's fuel cell chief, Charlie Freese, thinks fuel cell vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell version, could be viable commercially by 2015 or 2016. Like other alternative vehicle technologies, though, fuel cell vehicles needs a lot more work first, mostly in improved infrastructure and becoming more cost competitive.
GM knows its competitors will be releasing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, too, but Freese says the automaker has not announced any new programs. It's going to take a few years for commercial fuel cell vehicles to be a reality for GM. "The first generation of these cars won't be profitable," Freese said.