Consumers picked to test hydrogen car prototypes


Lack of fueling stations, high cost of development remain hurdles

Thursday, August 28, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Tom Albert drove the loaner Chevrolet Equinox like any other car.

He took it to work during the week, picked up groceries and loaded up the back with bags of soil at the garden store. When his infant son was fussy, Albert drove him around the block to calm him down.

The normal driving experience ended, however, when it came time to fuel the car. While driving the silent vehicle, Albert had two filling stations to choose from in the Washington, D.C., area because the fuel -- hydrogen -- was anything but typical.

Albert's no-cost driving experiment in the spring was part of a program by General Motors Corp. to see if vehicles powered by hydrogen can become a reality. Automakers such as GM, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG are putting several hundred vehicles in the suburbs and the cities to see how they fare during day-to-day driving.

"I heard about it on one of the local news stations on my commute in, that they were offering the chance to drive these," said Albert, an engineer who applied online to participate. "For some reason, they picked me."

Hydrogen fuel cells have been on the auto industry's roster of advanced vehicles for years, and several companies are testing small fleets. They gained attention when President Bush announced in 2003 that the government would invest $1.2 billion to encourage their development.

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