This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

January 09, 2002

GM Unveils "AUTOnomy," a Fuel-Cell-Powered Concept Vehicle

General Motors Corporation (GM) took the wraps off its latest fuel-cell-powered concept car — the AUTOnomy — on Monday. GM's innovative approach starts by placing all the drive elements — including the hydrogen storage and the fuel cell — into a six-inch thick base with four wheels that looks somewhat like a giant skateboard. Electric motors drive each of the wheels independently and allow the driver to steer the car. All-electronic "drive by wire" technology is used to accelerate, steer, and stop the car, so the only moving parts other than the video-game-like steering wheel are the wheels, motors, and suspension. This approach allows GM to mount a variety of bodies onto the skateboard chassis using simple electrical and mechanical connectors. GM also intends for the car to serve as a power source, providing power to a building or to the power grid while it is parked.

GM has filed 24 patent applications based on the AUTOnomy concept, as well as more than 300 for its fuel cell technologies. The company hopes someday to achieve cost savings through mass-production of the skateboard chassis. Although the concept vehicle appears to be in its early stages, GM intends to produce a drivable version by the end of this year.

To see actual video and photos of the vehicle, see the January 7th GM press conference.

GM unveiled the AUTOnomy at the 2002 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), now underway in Detroit. The show opens to the public on Saturday. See the NAIAS

Web site.

GM isn't the only company making fuel cell advances — DaimlerChrysler recently rolled out its "Natrium" minivan, based on the Chrysler Town and Country. The vehicle generates hydrogen for its fuel cell from a solution of sodium borohydride, which is derived from sodium borate, commonly known as borax. Passed through a catalyst chamber, the sodium borohydride releases a stream of pure hydrogen for the fuel cell, producing borax as a byproduct. See the press release from Millennium Cell Inc., which produces the sodium borohydride system.

But Ford Motor Company may be the only U.S. car company using a fuel cell commercially — not in its cars, but in the North American headquarters building for its Premier Automotive Group. Ford has installed a 200-kilowatt UTC fuel cell in the 300,000-square-foot building, providing 25 percent of the building's power while also heating the building's water. See the press release from UTC Fuel Cells — formerly called International Fuel Cells.