Sunday, January 09, 2005

He Pulled Up To The Hydrogen Pump….

It looks like automakers are finally getting serious about hydrogen-fueled cars, and it about time. Hydrogen has the potential to cut pollution and green house gases, and reduce our dependence on oil. However, we are still many years from replacing petroleum-fueled autos, but this is promising:

After a century of dependence on oil-based fuel, the auto industry is finally giving consumers a serious look at a future with little or no gasoline power. The products showing up this week in Detroit have far more corporate support than recent electricity-powered vehicles, and are advanced beyond the demonstration vehicles shown by car companies over the last few years. The fleet of fuel-cell minivans that GM maintains in Washington, for example, has limited range and must be operated by company employees.

By contrast, Honda lets almost anyone drive its FCX. In a recent feature on the automotive research online site, a reviewer described picking up the FCX from a valet-parking attendant.

Hydrogen is still years away from reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. No one has yet figured out how to generate large amounts of hydrogen without causing as much pollution as internal-combustion engines now create, or how to pay for a nationwide distribution network. And the vehicles are prohibitively expensive; if GM's Sequel were for sale, it would cost as much as a warehouse full of

Still, auto industry executives say their business is on the verge of a fundamental change. "It's a frenzy" to get out front with new technology, said Mary Ann Wright, director of such efforts at Ford. "What you're seeing is a groundswell, not really of industry pushing as much as everybody demanding that we really get serious about these solutions. . . . The market's telling us something -- they're ready for this kind of stuff. The public is aware that we can't continue to consume oil like we do."

People have sent that message in the way car companies understand best: by buying products such as the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Ford Escape Hybrid. Rising fuel prices, instability in the Middle East and concerns about global warming have helped sustain the hybrid phenomenon, and U.S. car buyers have even turned away from the biggest SUVs in favor of smaller models.


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