Meet the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2. Apart from looking like a prototype from a future Blade Runner meets Mad Max mash up movie, this beast is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and is an actual vehicle co-developed between General Motors and the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Centre (TARDEC).
Following its debut at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the military will be testing it in to assesss its viability as a series mission vehicle. Namely, can hydrogen fuel cells meet the demands of the dangerous tasks and extreme conditions to serve as a permanent member of the US Army ground forces’ garage?
Based on a Colorado pick-up, the truck, as you can see, is a very imposing machine, measuring six and a half feet tall and over seven feet wide. It had been given a matte brown exterior finish with light camouflage effect on the front fenders, hood, and bumper. It’s suspension has been heavily revised to accommodate the taller stature and 37-inch tyres and longer wheelbase.
It’s power system is unique in that it contains both a bank of batteries to power the electric motor but also a hydrogen fuel cell as a secondary method of power generation.
There are some clear advantages and drawbacks concerning fuel cell vehicles to which the military will be evaluating. The ZH2 no doubt will be applauded for its silent operation and possible role as a near-undetectable scout due to its lowered thermal and acoustic signature.
“The speed with which innovative ideas can be demonstrated and assessed is why relationships with industry are so important to the Army,” said Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC. “Fuel cells have the potential to expand the capabilities of Army vehicles significantly through quiet operation, exportable power and solid torque performance, all advances that drove us to investigate this technology further.”
Additionally, because fuel cell vehicles use electric motors to drive the wheels, the immediate high torque could prove invaluable when the going gets particularly rough. Also inherent is the significantly reduced mechanical tax as the critical components are far fewer and nearly impervious to wear and tear over an internal combustion engine.
Uniquely, the by product of a fuel cell vehicle's operation is water, which is a prime supply concern wherever military personnel are order to be stationed for either a short or long period.
TARDEC and General Motors have set up fuel cell testing facilities within 50km of Detroit, Michigan. Right now Chevrolet will be working on the ZH2 for a fair amount more before eventually handing it over the US Army for a year-long testing stint.
In total, General Motors claim that they have accumulated over five million kilometres travelled with its 119-strong fleet of vehicles powered by its hydrogen fuel cell systems, tested as part of their Project Driveway initiative that uses a fleet of over 5,000 real-world drivers in a multi-year evaluation period of hydrogen-powered cars as alternatives to fossil fuels.
“The Colorado ZH2 is a terrific example of GM’s engineering and design skill in creating an off-road vehicle relevant to a range of potential users,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities. “Over the next year, we expect to learn from the Army the limits of what a fuel cell propulsion system can do when really put to the test.”