GM plans for fuel-cell future with SURUS

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Automaker joins line of firms trying to develop viable fuel-cell commercial vehicles

General Motors has advanced its next-generation fuel cell system, which is part of its concept SURUS (Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure) platform that was shown last week at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army. Whether commercial transportation is willing to adopt fuel cell technology, though, remains a question.

Toyota just this week announced that its Project Portal fuel-cell truck will begin real-world operation in California ports to test its viability and Nikola Motors continues to work on its hydrogen fuel cell powered electric truck. Kenworth is also testing a fuel-cell drayage vehicle in the ports.

The SURUS platform was designed with commercial and military applications in mind, GM officials told FreightWaves.

“GM developed SURUS to leverage a single fuel cell electric propulsion system integrated into a common chassis with target commercial markets in mind. The Army is evaluating the commercial Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 for their purposes to understand how fuel cells operate in an off-road environment, as well as using the commercial SURUS design-study concept to gauge suitability for future military applications,” Elizabeth Winter, global advanced technology communications for GM said.

The vehicle is powered by GM’s newest Hydrotec fuel cell system and offers autonomous capability and truck chassis components. The vehicle may be exactly what the military needs to move supplies in war zones without putting humans at risk.

To advance its autonomous driving technologies, last week GM announced the acquisition of lidar-technology company Strobe. Strobe personnel will join GM”s Cruise Automation team.

Lidar uses light to create high-resolution images that provide a more accurate view of the world than camerasradar alone. As self-driving technology continues to evolve, lidar’s accuracy will play a critical role, GM said.

“Strobe’s lidar technology will significantly improve the cost and capabilities of our vehicles so that we can more quickly accomplish our mission to deploy driverless vehicles at scale,” said Kyle Vogt, founder and CEO, Cruise Automation.

Whether Strobe’s technology makes it into SURUS remains to be seen, but the applications for SURUS are obvious. GM sees SURUS operating in applications ranging from utility trucks to commercial freight operations, light- and medium-duty trucks and military applications.

From a commercial standpoint, the fuel cell technology is scalable, potentially allowing it to haul heavier payloads. “There are many possibilities, but we have nothing to announce at this time,” Winter said when asked if it could open the door for GM to compete with Ford and heavy truck OEMs in Class 7 and 8 applications such as regional haul.

The concept vehicle can haul 7,000 pounds of payload and has a range of about 400 miles, Winter said. Right now, vehicles running on fuel cells don’t have many locations to refill.

“GM intends to help accelerate infrastructure where it makes sense, but it’s important to note that many of the fuel cell applications we are exploring have unique fueling supply chains such as ports,” Winter said.

The cost of fuel cell technology has been dropping, but GM has also been leading in innovations to further reduce costs.

“We are far along in the process on this next-generation fuel cell system, which is designed to be more efficient - reducing size and weight by half and as well as minimizing precious metals required,” Winter said. “We’ve said that GM’s electrification strategy will be profitable, but not identified specific dates.”

The SURUS platform features two advanced electric drive units; four-wheel steering; lithium-ion battery system; Gen 2 fuel cell system; hydrogen storage system capable of more than 400 miles of range; advanced propulsion power electronics; GM truck chassis components; and an advanced, industry-leading suspension.

“The SURUS platform has the potential to both leverage technologies in development across the GM portfolio and contribute new elements for future products,” Winter concludes.