Tonawanda News

Business

April 17, 2009

BUSINESS: What it's like to drive a fuel cell

COMMENTARY

One of the perks of a reporter’s job is getting to hear and see things before most people, but taking a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Chevy Equinox for a few laps turned out to be even more interesting than I anticipated.

There’s not much difference between a fuel cell car and a gas powered one looking at it from the curb, but when you turn the key it’s a whole new world. Instead of a rumbling that turns into a low purr (if your engine is in working order that is), the car’s motor sounds more akin to a window-mounted air conditioner starting up. That analogy even holds at the other end of the car, where exhaust is emitted in the form of cool, moist air coming from three pipes.

Looking down, the test model’s all-digital display showed what’s happening inside the engine, how much fuel was remaining and how much charge the battery had left. A quick shift into drive, and I was off to the races.

The first thing I noticed was a lack of forward movement when I took my foot off the brake. Apparently in this car, if you want to go forward, even slowly, you’re going to have to give it some gas (or, more accurately, hydrogen). But boy did it ever go once I put the pedal down.

My guide explained that fast acceleration draws electric power from the battery to get up to speed, and the climb was smoother than any I’ve ever experienced, due mainly to the car’s lack of a transmission. There was no grinding and jerking like in my tried-and-true 1996 Corsica. The car’s acceleration was almost effortless, and my guide said that takes some getting used to when you’re gauging your speed. When she drives hers to work on the interstate, it’s easy to forget how fast you’re going when the car doesn’t want to shake itself apart at 90 mph.

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