DETROIT - General Motors (GM) hopes to get hundreds of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles a year into ordinary buyers’ hands through GM dealerships beginning in 2011, according to USA TODAY. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles produce water vapor as exhaust, and they go twice as far as gasoline vehicles on the same amount of energy.

Until now, Honda has been the fuel-cell champion. Last month, Honda said it will put up to 100 of its 2008 FCX regular-production fuel-cell sedans into U.S. customers’ hands next year, probably via two- or three-year leases. Hyundai has promised to mass-produce fuel-cell vehicles as soon as 2012, no later than 2015.

Problems during remaining development could delay GM’s 2011 rollout date, as could the failure of energy companies to build the expected additional hydrogen stations in the Los Angeles area, where the first regular-production hydrogen vehicles are likely to be launched.

In the interim, GM is handing over 100 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs, modified to run on fuel cells instead of gasoline engines, to regular drivers for three months at a time the next three years to collect data, according to USA TODAY.

As envisioned, the GM fuel cell will be a hydrogen version of the Chevrolet Volt electric car. Volt is a battery-power car that can be recharged by plugging into a normal electric outlet or by a small gasoline engine in the car. In the hydrogen versions, fuel cells would replace batteries, combining hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical reaction that produces electricity. GM will start manufacturing Volt in 2010.

The fuel-cell Volt, expected about a year later, probably would be leased.