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September 12, 2009

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GM sees fuel cell cars as an easy sell

GENERAL Motors is now 1.6 million kilometers into its fuel cell experiment and company officials say having everyday people drive a test fleet of pollution-free cars has convinced them they are on the right track.

The car maker yesterday said it had driven 1 million miles in its fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox vehicles, with about 5,000 people rotating in and out of more than 100 cars over the past 25 months.

"They'll tell you that after the first week, they pretty much forget it's a fuel cell car, which indicates to us that we have accomplished our goal of making the fuel cell transparent to the consumer," said Daniel O'Connell, director of fuel cell commercialization at GM's research and development offices in Honeoye Falls, near Rochester.

"They get in the car and drive it like they've always driven their cars, and that really tells me that fuel cells are closer than most people would believe," he said.

Supporters see the fuel cell becoming a mainstream, eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-powered cars within the next decade. Powered by electricity, generated by a reaction between oxygen and hydrogen, the only emissions are wisps of water vapor.

"You put your hand over the exhaust pipe and the only thing coming out is water. That was such a cool feeling," said Mike Schwabl, a marketing executive who drove an Equinox for 10 days in western New York.

The cars look and handle like any other car, Schwabl said. Refueling the cars with compressed hydrogen takes about five to seven minutes in a process similar to putting gasoline in a traditional car.


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