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Former GM Exec Calls for Fuel Cell Collaboration

August 8, 2002

Ken Baker, former vice president of research at General Motors and one of the key men behind the development of GM's EV1 electric car, will call for the auto industry, government, universities and energy companies to start working together to develop standards for fuel cell vehicles, according to Automotive News. Baker believes such a collaborative effort is needed to ensure that fuel cells are successful when they reach the market. "The challenge is consumer confidence, consumer readiness. And that relates back to some of the things we found with EV1," Baker said Aug. 5, 2002 in an interview at the Management Briefing Seminars. "We had a great product and the technology was very well-thought-out. Everyone who drove the car got out with a smile. But was the infrastructure, was the support environment, was the consumer confidence there to take it to broad scale applications? You have much the same challenge with fuel cells." Refueling is a major issue. Automakers are developing various sources of hydrogen and different methods to refuel fuel cell test vehicles. "I think the thing that still needs sorting out is the simple question of what will the gas station nozzle and fuel tank of the future look like?" said Baker, now CEO of Altarum, an Ann Arbor, MI, think tank. "Is it on board? Is it off board? Is it going to be at home? Is it going to be at a conventional gas station?" It is a familiar issue for Baker. During the EV1 project, competitive pressures between GM and Ford Motor Co. led them to develop unique, and incompatible, recharging systems for electric vehicles. The split placed fleets and cities in the expensive position of having to buy two types of recharging equipment. A similar situation could develop with hydrogen refueling if a common standard is not developed. The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill., estimates that it will cost at least $500 billion to create a hydrogen infrastructure that could fuel 100 million fuel cell vehicles. According to R.L. Polk & Co. of Southfield, Mich., which compiles vehicle registration data, there were more than 209 million cars and light trucks in use in the United States in 2001.
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