- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

DETROIT | The Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell electric vehicles have passed 1 million miles of gasoline- and tailpipe-pollution-free driving by homemakers, accountants, computer-game designers and others using the vehicles every day in real-world conditions.

More than 50,000 gallons of gasoline have been saved so far in the fuel-cell Equinox, more than 100 of which are part of the largest consumer fuel-cell demonstration fleet in the world. The fuel-cell electric Equinox runs on electricity created by an onboard fuel-cell stack. The only emissions are wisps of water vapor.

About 5,000 people have driven the fuel-cell Equinox in short test drives. More than 80,000 people in New York, Washington and greater Los Angeles volunteered to drive the vehicles as part of Project Driveway, which began in November 2007.

The fuel-cell Equinox carries about 4.2 kilograms of compressed hydrogen on board, enough for about 168 miles before a five- to seven-minute refill is required. Regenerative braking, which sends energy - created in stopping - back to the vehicle battery, extends the driving range. Drivers refill at hydrogen stations.

“It has never been our focus to get a million miles, but it’s given us an incredible learning experience,” said Mark Vann, who manages Project Driveway for Chevrolet. “This says a lot about the viability of fuel-cell vehicles - that they are not one or two decades away, but are doable today.”

The officially recognized millionth mile in a Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell electric vehicle was driven by Jeanine Behr-Getz, an author of children’s books and mother of a first-grade daughter in Greenwich, Conn. She was chosen to participate in Project Driveway because she likely would purchase a fuel-cell vehicle out of concern for the environment and to reduce the nation’s use of petroleum.

“The Chevrolet fuel-cell Equinox fit my family, groceries, golf clubs and work supplies with no problem, and it drove the same as my fossil-fuel crossover vehicle,” she said. “And as a bonus, I was the only parent allowed to idle my car in the pickup line at school.”

In Project Driveway, participants keep the midsize Equinox crossovers for about two months, with free fuel and insurance in exchange for providing regular feedback to engineers. Having people living with the vehicle helps Chevrolet improve the fuel-cell experience. The feel of the regenerative brakes was one change that resulted from customer comments.

“I think when people first hear about the car, they expect something that looks like an experiment,” said Stephanie White, an Equinox fuel-cell electric driver in Southern California. “So when they see how real the car is, particularly after driving it, they want to know, ‘Where can I buy one?’ or ‘When can I buy one of these cars?’ ”

The Equinox fuel cell is part of Chevrolet’s electrification of the automobile, which continues next year with commercial production of the Volt extended-range electric vehicle. Feedback from the Equinox fuel cell is being shared with the Volt development team.

While Project Driveway shows how easily hydrogen-powered vehicles could become normal transportation, the high cost of development and lack of fueling infrastructure have prevented a decision on a mass-production fuel-cell vehicle.

Project Driveway vehicles are on loan to celebrities and a range of government and nongovernmental entities, including the U.S. Postal Service, which has delivered more than 700,000 pieces of mail in the Equinox. Other vehicles are used by Virgin Atlantic and Disney, which wrote the fuel cell into a featured role in a recent episode of the ABC Family comedy “Ruby & the Rockits.”

The significance of Project Driveway is especially appreciated in California, where most of the vehicles are in use.

“One million miles shows that people are driving the Equinox FCVs as part of their everyday lives,” said California Fuel Cell Partnership’s executive director, Catherine Dunwoody. “Many of those miles were on California roads, including hundreds I put on one as a Project Driveway driver. Fuel-cell vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell will provide regular people with the range and convenience of a conventional vehicle plus zero emissions, a low-carbon footprint and a sustainable, domestic fuel.”

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