At Automobile Magazine, we’ve been interested in spending some quality time in the Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicle ever since GM began its roll-out of a 100-car demonstration fleet earlier this year. Part of the program involves putting the cars into the hands of ordinary people in the suburban New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. areas, where there are hydrogen refueling sites. My relocation to Westchester County, New York, puts me within striking distance of the refueling site in White Plains and the one at GM’s service training facility in Ardsley, so I’ve signed up for a two-week stint to see what it’s like to live with this Car of the (Possible) Future.
I go to pick up the car and spend a couple hours learning about it and getting a hands-on lesson in refueling it from Brad Beauchamp, Driver Relationship Manager for the fuel cell program.
Essentially, the converted Chevy Equinox is an electric car, one that gets its electricity from a fuel cell rather than a battery. The fuel cell stack, located under the hood, uses compressed hydrogen gas (stored in three carbon-fiber tanks under the cargo floor and the back seat) to make that electricity. A nickel-metal-hydride battery also helps power the car – mostly to smooth out the throttle response – and it’s charged chiefly by the regenerative brakes (although the fuel cell can charge it if necessary). This is a front-wheel-drive car, with an automatic transmission. The interior is largely conventional, except for a few novel warning lights and a gauge measuring kilowatt usage in place of a tachometer. Oh, and the upholstery is all man-made materials in place of leather (including on the steering wheel), in keeping with the environmental theme.
First driving impressions: The fuel cell Equinox drives like an electric car, because it is one. It is very quiet from the driver’s seat; the power steering features electric assist, but it’s actually better tuned than that on the standard Equinox; the brake pedal responds to pressure more so than travel, and is a bit hard to modulate smoothly; the car is adequately quick, but not neck-snapping. (GM quotes a 0-to-60-mph time of 12 seconds and a top speed of 100 mph.)