A while back we showed you a glimpse of a future hydrogen-powered-hybrid built by GM. Well now it’s official being tested and the results are looking promising.
Chevrolet and GM have started an alliance with TARDEC, the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center. That’s a fancy way of pointing out that they build things that go boom. But the alliance has allowed GM to build one of the most capable hybrid machines to ever make it all the way to testing.
The Colorado ZH2 is the result of years of collaboration, and it doesn’t disappoint. The hybrid system is a combination of hydrogen and electric power, creating a driving system that is almost completely silent. Now the ZH2 is first and foremost a military vehicle. This should have prompted most of you to say ‘wait, isn’t hydrogen extremely explosive!?’ Yes, yes it is. So you would think using it in a situation where its most likely going to be shot at would be anything but wise. GM has headed your concerns and assures us that the hydrogen tanks used on the ZH2 are bullet proof. They are in fact so structurally sound that even the mighty .50 caliber will just bounce right off without a trace of a puncture. Anything short of a tank and apparently you will be just fine, at least from the risk of a hydrogen explosion. Even with that they have implemented safety measures. In the curious case of a puncture the ZH2 will vent the remaining hydrogen from the tanks out of the top of the vehicle, keeping the passengers far away from the toxic gas.
The electric side of things uses a relatively small 93kw battery, used as a buffer for the ECU to control the fuel cell. All of this is designed to power the electric motor which is rated at 177hp and a stunning 1000ft-lbs of torque. Factor in that electric motors develop their torque instantly and you have a recipe for a fantastic military tool. While the Colorado features a slew of off-road goodies the one it doesn’t really need is the low range gear in the transfer case.
While the ZH2 is actually a Colorado, it has been extensively modified. It’s stretched for a longer wheelbase than stock, and it also features suspension that better replicates the new ZR2 Prerunner. Sitting on 37-inch tires it’s no wonder they call it a go anywhere vehicle. The unique side of electric vehicles is that they don’t require transmissions at all. Combine that direct drive with micrometer control and you have a vehicle that is not only off-road capable but easy to pilot while doing so.
If that wasn’t enough to put it in the running for the next Humvee replacement than the stealth factor should be. Like we said earlier, the hydrogen-electric system is near silent. Upon start up and shut down the system emits the faintest burble. Once engaged you could hear a pin drop until you are moving. After you get rolling the only thing you will hear is the rolling resistance of the tires combined with a faint hum from the electric motor. By the time the human ear could pick up these sounds the ZH2 would be able to run you down with ease. Another aspect that us civilians may not have thought of is the heat signature these vehicles emit. A typical Humvee runs at roughly 750-degrees on top of the audible burble of the diesel engines. And this is required to power all of the onboard devices needed in the field. The ZH2 on the other hand silently emits a heat signature of only 140-degrees. This would allow the ZH2 to get over half as close before being seen on any sort of thermal device. And the difference audibly is ten fold.
So it’s better off-road and stealthier, what is the downside? Well for one it hasn’t been fully tested yet. That’s the exciting part. It is currently being rolled out into testing fields in Michigan where they will truly find out its strengths and weaknesses. One of the biggest currently is the range. I’ve seen different reports around the web that are a little unclear, but we are looking at a range of less than 200-miles. Which isn’t bad considering the technology, but it can’t match that of the current Humvee. It will also be much harder to fuel the ZH2 to start. A small hurdle, but worth considering. The last thing is the storage. All of this technology currently takes up volumes of space, leaving crews with little room for important supplies. GM claims the technical bits will shrink by up to 40-percent on the production models, but that will be a ways down the road.
Regardless of its current state the fact that it is entering field testing is fantastic. While a military application may be controversial there is no doubting that this technology will trickle into everyday vehicles. Where it will take us we aren’t quite sure, but we know the ride will be quiet.