An Overview of the GM Hy-wire Car

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We are driving to have compelling and affordable fuel cell vehicles on the road by the end of the decade. With Hy-wire, we have taken the technology as it exists today and packaged it into an innovative driveable vehicle comparable in size and weight to today's luxury vehicles.
- Larry Burns, Vice President, GM Research, Development and Planning

Coming in at a million dollars a metre, the GM Hy-wire is $5 million dollars, yes, count them, $5 million dollars of unrivalled technology fusing hydrogen fuel cell propulsion and by-wire technology1. Its concept and design challenge the way we will look at motoring while keeping a beady eye on the environment. Indeed the by-products of this miracle machine are minimal and it is the first real alternative to the conventional engine that doesn't depend on fossil fuels (the Sinclair C5 was sadly no real option - it was so laughably inappropriate for any road that it failed to inspire anyone).

Weighing in at 1900kg (4180lbs)2, it can coast along at an elegant 99mph (160km). The car is light because there is no engine, the motor which propels the Hy-wire is found in the 11-inch thick chassis. This chassis contains the fuel cell (which can generate 94kW/125hp) and the nerve centre for the unique control system. Having no engine means more leg-room for both the driver and up to four passengers. The controls are electronic rather than mechanic and are operated from the steering wheel rather than the traditional pedals and gear stick - you twist to accelerate and squeeze to brake. For anyone of the PlayStation generation, this is child's play. An added bonus is that the controls can be switched from left- to right-hand drive at the flick of a switch. Wing and rear view mirrors have been replaced with in-car screens.

The body of the Hy-wire is an aluminium frame on a steel and fibre glass body and conventional windscreen dimensions have been lengthened giving the driver a sense of space and improved visibility. It's a car that marries the best of contemporary design with the innovation necessary for the 21st Century. The Hy-wire may cost the GDP of a developing nation, but this is a prototype. As the market adopts the Hy-wire concept and runs with it, the price will come down, ensuring a cleaner, quieter future for several generations to come.

The Counter-argument

While the Hy-wire may be clean, light, airy and good for the environment, will it sell? The odds are that it won't in its current state (price aside). Technology like this will meet a wave of resistance from the automobile world's traditionalists. Even now there are those that prefer diesel to unleaded. Imagine the backlash when you tell your average petrol head that the roar of an engine will be replaced by the gentle thrum of a hi-tech chassis; that the manly mechanics of changing gears and thumping pedals will be replaced by the gentle caress of an computerised console. The noise will be louder than the screeching tyres on a Reliant Robin.

What is needed is a compromise - we should learn from the great Preston Tucker, the man who married technological car innovation with traditional values in the 1940s. While there will be those that will embrace these innovations with both arms, a nod must be given to those who want to keep a foot in the past. Even now we are creating cars that hark back to a glorious design past but take on board the requirements for the future. It seems that the Hy-wire, in its quest for global-friendly glory has severed its ties to its past, and therefore its future market.

Hy-wire Links

1But what is the by-wire technology that powers the car? It's a new system which replaces traditional mechanical methods of operating a car. It uses a computer control system to operate functions from the control panel at the wheel, concentrating all movement in the hands.2The Lexus LS430 weighs in at 2350kg (5170lbs).

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