General Motors presented a hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty truck concept, along with a plan to produce at least 20 all-electric passenger vehicles by 2023 on Monday at the company’s Design Dome in Warren, Mich.
The truck concept, nicknamed SURUS for Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure, is built on existing heavy-duty pickup truck platforms and could be used in drayage trucks, semi-tractor trucks or even an autonomous ambulance, said Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman.
SURUS would be driven by two electric motors and feature four-wheel steering. GM expects to release more information about the project in the near future, Kelly said.
“There’s been a lot of talk about commercial relevance for hydrogen fuel cells,” said Michael Ramsey, an analyst for Gartner Inc.
In April, Toyota unveiled its hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty truck called Project Portal, which underwent testing at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach during the summer. US Hybrid has also shown a hydrogen fuel cell truck that it intends to test, and Kenworth expects to sell its own model by the end of this year.
Fleet owners may be willing to purchase trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells because buying decisions are based heavily on return on investment, Ramsey said. Hydrogen is more affordable and more efficient than gasoline or diesel, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are also capable of greater range than electric vehicles.
“With hydrogen, you can have the fuel at your own depot without having to find it out in the environment,” he said.
GM has been a pioneer in hydrogen fuel cell technology for decades and in April delivered a fortified pickup powered by hydrogen fuel cells to the U.S. Army.
The automaker has also partnered with Honda to create Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, a joint company developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. Both companies intend to implement technology from the agreement into their future vehicles. The next-generation system used to power SURUS is derived from the partnership.
GM also presented two clay models that indicated light trucks may play an important role in the company’s electric vehicle plans. One of the models was a large crossover and the other was a mid-sized SUV – both powered by technology derived from the Chevrolet Bolt compact sedan.
The crossover and SUV clay models “give an idea of what our architecture platform can accomplish,” Kelly said.
GM will begin production of electric batteries for the new models at its manufacturing plant in Brownstown, Mich., by 2020, he said.
“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s vice president of product development. “Although that future won't happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers' needs.”
Ramsey said that a gasoline-electric hybrid pickup truck may be included in GM’s rollout, although a smaller all-electric pickup is also possible.
In January, Ford Motor Co. announced plans to build a hybrid version of its F-150 full-size pickup by 2020, as well as an all-electric SUV. Ford Chief Executive Jim Hackett is expected to release details on the company’s electric vehicle plans during a call to investors Tuesday.
General Motors will also invest in improving electric charging station infrastructure to enable greater public adoption of electric vehicles. Over the last 12 months there has been a 42 percent increase in “fast chargers” installed across the country, Kelly said.
“We want to be a part of that continued growth,” he said.
An improved charging infrastructure is imperative to wider adoption of all-electric passenger vehicles, Ramsey said. Before consumers can be expected to show interest in a wide lineup of electric vehicles they will need greater assurance of charging availability and a network that can support long trips.
He envisions the rise of fast charging stations eventually replacing slower Level 2 charging stations that are expensive to install and difficult to locate.
“The final barrier is going to be fast charging,” he said.