GM Technology Tour Held in Sacramento on Wednesday Feb 12th 2003

Hy-Wire fuel cell automobile. I drove this one. It's their only test bed for this concept. All controlled by hands (steering, braking and speed control). I had one hell of a time trying to drive it. Steering too touchy, so I over-corrected. Speed is controlled by twisting either hand hold and braking by squeezing either hand hold. The left hand hold stuck so I couldn't stop the acceleration. Good thing the GM man in the passenger seat could override me and stop it. I let him drive it back. He said, "Well, I guess we have to fix this". It's a nice concept, though. With three basic chassis and several body styles to drop onto the chassis, one can have a vehicle convertible to different uses. Just hook up the electric lines to the propulsion and control systems which are all in the chassis.

This whole hydrogen thing parrots the EV1 Saga. 

Before the ride and drive, there was a presentation at the Hyatt. They talked a lot about fuel cells and hydrogen, but said almost nothing about their plans for hybrids.

As for fuel cells, GM said we will see FCVs on the road at the end of the decade. GM wants to make 1 million FCVs by then.

I did learn something useful. I asked the question, "If the best source of hydrogen is natural gas, then why not just burn CNG in an ICE instead of going through all this hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell development?"

The answer was interesting. GM claims that well-to-wheel, the natural gas - hydrogen production - fuel cell cycle uses less energy per mile to propel a car than a CNG-ICE cycle would. And in addition, the carbon dioxide could be sequestered by pumping it back into the natural gas field instead of releasing it to the atmosphere.

As for hybrids, I think it's too little, too late. I first drove the Prius in 1997 at EVS-14. I now own one and average about 44 MPG. The Saturn Vue will be available next year, seven years later.

But at least they are now doing something, as token as it might be. The only real full hybrid will be the Saturn Vue. But they didn't have one at the Tech Tour.

Other notes and quotes:

"Some say PNGV was a failed effort, but GM got a lot of benefit from the program."

"The new 'Freedom Fuel Initiative' has been announced by President Bush."


Ina Shlez, of the San Francisco Dept of the Environment, test drives the Hy-Wire. She did a better job than I did, but then, the accelerator wasn't sticking as it did when I tried to drive it. You can call Ina at (415) 355-3731 or email her at

Don McGrath text & photos

Belt alternator starter hybrid. Engine is off at idle mode. Fuel is cut off during deceleration. Has regen braking. 12 to 15% increase in fuel efficiency.

DOD (Displacement on Demand) pickup truck. I drove this one. It has a full size V8 engine that only runs on 4 cylinders during deceleration or cruising when little power is required. EPA estimates 8% fuel savings but GM says real world savings ranges up to 25%. I was favorably impressed. DOD is an old idea. It was tried on a Cadillac in the mid '80s, if I remember correctly, but didn't become practical until recently with the advent of good computerized control systems. The computer shuts off the fuel to half the cylinders and closes the valves. The air in the cylinder is compressed on the upstroke but acts as a spring on the down stroke. I could only tell that I was on 4 cylinders because of a little indicator lamp that told me so. Part of the driving was on city streets and part on freeway. My score was 26% fuel savings. The pickup truck with the V8 system will be available in 2004 and the V6 system in 2005.

Parallel hybrid pickup truck. Runs on ICE and batteries. The truck has a full size ICE for hauling and towing. Fuel savings is 10 to 12%. Debuts in 2003.

Saturn Vue VTi GM's first CVT. Gets 7 to 11% increase in fuel economy.

Pickup truck with the E85 engine. Runs on 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline. Lower sulfur and carbon dioxide emissions.