A few years back, General Motors was talking a lot about hydrogen fuel cells. Now, they're back at it with the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell, the company's biggest effort to date. You can't roll down to your Chevy dealer and buy one, though. You have to self-identify, and then GM has to pick you to participate in what it's calling Project Driveway. Chevy has already selected more than 100 customers who visited Chevy's Web site and live near one of the country's handful of hydrogen filling stations. They're given a car, along with fuel, free of charge.
But only for three months, when the cars will be passed on. It's a market test, GM says, a way to learn from the public's experience and to demonstrate that hydrogen cars make sense.
We drove a fuel-cell Equinox, and it was smooth like an electric car (which it is) and eerily quiet on the interstate. And it was clean (like an electric car is, in theory, although ultimately this depends on where one gets one's hydrogen; not all sources are totally green).
Chevy claims the 0-to-60-mph run takes twelve seconds, a performance figure that doesn't sound so pitiful to anyone who drove in the 1980s and which in fact doesn't do the car justice. The most impressive thing about this Equinox is how sprightly it steps off. Its handling seems similar to that of a stock Equinox, despite its extra 500 pounds and a regenerative braking system that charges the batteries when you lift off the accelerator or apply the brakes.
The Equinox is the third GM hydrogen car we've driven, and it's the best yet. It felt like a decent SUV, only quieter. All things being equal - a big if - we can't see why someone wouldn't buy one in preference to a gasoline Equinox.