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The Promise of Fuel-Cell Vehicles

UCD-ITS-RP-93-26

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Suggested Citation:
DeLuchi, Mark A. and David H. Swan (1993) The Promise of Fuel-Cell Vehicles. Access Magazine (3), 14 - 21

In 1990 General Motors unveiled a new battery-powered electric vehicle, called the Impact – the flashiest, best-engineered electric vehicle ever. Thanks to an advanced electric drivetrain and a lightweight aerodynamic, energy-conserving body, the Impact accelerates faster than comparable gasoline-powered cars. However, even under the best conditions, despite its advanced technology and its state-of-the-art lead-acid battery, it will go no more than 120 miles and, as with all battery-powered vehicles, it requires hours to recharge.

The great attraction of electric cars is the absence of tailpipe emissions. In the parlance of the California Air Resources Board, they are zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The Board rekindled interest among major automakers in ZEVs a couple years ago when it announced that 10 percent of all cars sold in California by 2003 must be zero-emitters. Many analysts believe it will be difficult to sell enough battery-powered cars to meet that requirement. Virtually no one believes ZEVs will dominate the motor-vehicle market unless they can accelerate as fast, drive as far, and be refueled as quickly as today's gasoline cars.

The only ZEV that potentially can satisfy these requirements is a fuel-cell vehicle (FCV). An FCV combines the best features of a battery-powered car – zero emissions, high efficiency, quiet operation, and long life – with the long range and fast refueling of a gasoline car. This combination makes FCVs one of the most attractive and important transportation technologies for the 21st century.