Hydrogen power the way of the future?

And the future is here now!

If you thought that the gasoline powered vehicle was here to stay, think again. World technology is heading the way of Hydrogen power. While Honda and Toyota are marketing (with limited success) their hybrid gasoline/electric cars, other manufacturers are forgetting hybrids and are heading the hydrogen way.

While there have been reports and successful running over hydrogen powered vehicles, one of the so-called stumbling blocks has been the lack of hydrogen filling stations. The world is covered in gas stations, but where’s the closest hydrogen pump?

Now if there weren’t places called Iraq and the Middle East, I honestly think we would be going petrol from here to Kingdom Come, but since oil stocks are not only dwindling and expensive - they are also political. The future is not in our hands, gentle reader, but is in the hands of blokes like George W. Bush and his cronies like Tony, the teeth, Blair and other pollies. All of whom you could trust as far as you can throw City Hall. They want to break the back of the oil producing countries, and are looking at doing it today. No, folks, forget petrol as the fuel for tomorrow, it’s hydrogen, and full scale testing is now on, plus the building of hydrogen recharging systems and pumps.

One of the latest manufacturers to show its hand is Nissan which plans to begin limited marketing of fuel cell vehicles in Japan in 2003, two years ahead of its previously announced schedule. That is not tomorrow, that is this year!

In 2001, Nissan and Renault began a five-year joint fuel cell R&D project with a projected investment of almost USD 700 million. In that project, Nissan was to research hydrogen-powered fuel cells, while Renault studied vehicles equipped with an on-board reformer, according to Masashi Arita, general manager of Nissan’s Powertrain and Environment Research Laboratory.

According to Automotive News in the US, after receiving government approval this month, Nissan has begun public road tests of its X-Trail FCV, a hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicle. The sport utility’s fuel cell is provided by UTC Fuel Cells, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

Japan is also the test-bed for Gee Emm, who are supplying a HydroGen3 to Federal Express for a one-year test under actual working conditions as a delivery service vehicle, starting in June this year.

GM is participating in the Japan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Demonstration Project, led by the Japanese government, and will collect and analyse the data from FedEx to determine how its fuel cell vehicles operate under real-world commercial driving conditions. This data will, in turn, be made available to the fuel cell project. “To really prove that fuel cell vehicles are equal to or better than conventional, internal combustion vehicles, you need to operate them under tough, everyday conditions,” said Raymond Grigg , CEO of GM Japan. FedEx plans to operate the Opel (Chevrolet) Zafira based fuel cell vehicle - with a range of 250 miles and a top speed of 100 mph - for a daily running distance of between 50 miles and 112 miles for up to five days a week. The vehicle will be refilled with hydrogen at stations that the government plans to start operating as early as March.

In addition to Nissan and GM, both Toyota and Honda have leased fuel cell vehicles to the Japanese government for their testing and appraisal as part of the project.

However, the main stumbling block is not the infrastructure problems, such as the lack of hydrogen refuelling stations and various technical issues, but the biggest problem is cost. Asked about technical issues impeding the commercialisation of fuel cells, Nissan’s Arita said, “The most critical technical issue is how to reduce the cost of the (fuel) stack itself.” However, as we all know, technology that is expensive today can be exceptionally cheap tomorrow. Take computers for example, as technology that was once beyond the earning power of the man in the street, and now graces every office desk. Or the mobile phone that is given away free in some countries, just to get the consumer to use them. Fuel Cells have been deemed as the way to go, and they will be affordable. When? Within five years is my PSWAG (pseudo scientific wild assed guess)! Now is the time to sell shares in petroleum producers?

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned Sir Jack Brabham. After having retired from racing for 5 years, he was talked back into competing in a tin-top, with another famous F1 punter as co-driver. He didn’t get off the line as the gearbox stuck in two gears and Sir Jack (it is rumoured) forgot to stick his arm out the window to warn the other competitors and a following car hit him up the rear. What year? Where? And what was the car? And who was his co-driver? The answers were - 1976 at Bathurst, Australia, in a Holden Torana, with co-driver Sir Stirling Moss.

So to this week and let’s return to the US of A. Take a look at the Corvette Stingray. A classic car in all respects, with the unmistakable split back window and the ridge running from the roof to the tail. However, there was another car, long before the Corvette, that had a split back window and a ridge running down from the roof to the tail. What was it? Clues - it was European and rear engined. Now I can’t make it any easier than that!

By the way, the Corvette pic came from a 2003 calendar called “Fast Expensive Cars” and includes Ferrari’s, Lambo’s, Porsches and other more rara avis like Bizzarrini and Vector (thanks, Mike Davies)!

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania

Good luck!

Late breaking discovery! Volvo’s do not float

2,862 vehicles lost in Flotation experiment in English Channel

World press carried reports on the Tricolor, a car carrier operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines of Oslo, Norway, which sailed out of Zeebrugge, Belgium, on an around the world freight cruise.

The ship was supposed to stop first in Southampton, England; then cross the Atlantic to Baltimore and Brunswick, go through the Panama Canal to the West Coast cities of Port Hueneme, California, and Tacoma, Washington, cross the Pacific to Yokohama, Japan; and eventually return to Europe, picking up and dropping off cars along the way, said Wallenius spokesman Per Ronnevig. However, in the foggy English Channel, it ran into the Kariba, a container ship registered in the Bahamas, and sank taking 2,862 Volvo’s, Saab’s and BMW’s down to Davy Jones’ sub-aqua parking lot. The cargo was insured, but only for about $45 million, according to Wallenius. For those of mathematical bent, that’s about $15,700 each, making them very cheap Volvo’s, Saab’s and BMW’s - or someone underinsured the shipment! No crew members were lost in the incident.

For those interested in ships, the Tricolor was built in Japan in 1987 and could carry up to 6,050 cars, but alas, no more! Those looking for a cheap, but fairly damp motor vehicle, can don their diving suits now.

The “best” car for 2002?

Well, it certainly is not the Corness family Daihatsu Mira, no matter how easy it is to park and the nonchalant way one can stand and look at the latest damage caused by some clown on a motorcycle and shed no tears. In this country it may be practical to own, but “best” thankfully no.

Unfortunately, we also do not get the range of vehicles that are available elsewhere in the world, even though the ‘grey import’ section does add some life to a line-up of pick-ups and the ubiquitous small Toyotas and Hondas. However, our down-under correspondent John Weinthal does get a greater variety to choose from and his pick of the bunch came from Mazda. Unfortunately again, this is a model that has not found its way here, but from reports all over the world, Mazda has a winner with this one.

John is unreserved in his choice, saying, “My Car of the Year - one of the most complete cars I have ever driven - was without question the new Mazda 6. It looks great inside and out. It has steering that betters most so-called sporting cars with ride and handling of the best sedans and is my idea of the right size for almost anybody’s needs.” Knowing John Weinthal as I do, for more decades than either of us wish to remember, John is never lavish in his praise. That the Mazda 6 comes out so highly recommended means that it is a superb motor car.

For me in tropical Thailand, however, the car I enjoyed most, was the BMW 330. This was a vehicle which was a true ‘driver’s’ car. The nimbleness on our local goat tracks (AKA the city’s roads), as well as on the super highways was nothing short of fantastic. It allowed the still rampant race driver in me to have free rein and the way the car pre-empted my every move was nothing short of magical. It combined pinpoint race car handling with the luxury and smoothness of a family tourer.