The Cars That Money Can’t Buy – GM Hy-wire

Sun 21st Jul 2019

Sometimes your wallet won’t stretch to purchasing your dream motor. But don’t worry too much, there are some cars that even the biggest bank balances can’t buy, the dream cars that will forever remain a dream. These are the concept cars that never go into production.

GM Hy-wire
“We believe this is the future. This is the reinvention of the automobile. I feel like Mr. Wright, one of the Wright brothers, you know, with this vehicle,” a brave new world of motoring beckoned as GM Autonomy, Chief Program Architect, Adrian Chernoff spoke of an all-new hydrogen powered vehicle back in January 2002. Here was a vehicle with hydrogen fuel cells, a drive-by-wire system controlled completely by a computer.

Launched at the Detroit Auto Show, the Hy-wire, which got its quirky name from a classroom of toddlers who gave it the most simple of names, was a vision of the future. Here was a vehicle which had twice the efficiency of a standard car, with none of the emissions, only water coming from the tailpipe.

With no engine, there was no need for pedals, computerised steering meant no column and the driver could essentially sit wherever they liked on top of the hydrogen storage fuel-stacks.

GM’s Hy-Wire was a smooth-running green machine, with innovative touches such as cameras for mirrors and LCD displays on the dash - it was also super-quiet.

So no wonder Chernoff was confidently predicting a bright future for their Autonomy project, promising a commercially viable model by 2010.

Unfortunately for GM, there was very little appetite from the rest of the motor industry for a hydrogen-powered car. Rather cynically ExxonMobil refused to guarantee that their gas stations would be able to fill up the cars, and the honchos of the oil industry were still keen to make profit from the black stuff underground.

GM had also earnt something of a reputation of pulling the plug on green projects, they had canned the EV-1 in the mid-1990s and way back in the 1940s had also helped shut down electric trolleys across the US.

But almost two decades on from the hydrogen project, we know that the viability for it as an alternative, if not expensive fuel, are there. As recently as 2017, GM’s executive director, Charlie Freese was still very positive about the viability.

He said: “We’ve invested over $2.5 billion in the technology. It’s a substantial investment. Let me put it this way: We’re working as effectively as possible to advance the fuel-cell technology as rapidly as possible.”

So expensive, yes, but viable? Also yes. The problem today, as at the turn of the millennium seems to be one of getting the rest of the world agree. Perhaps like the famous Wright Brothers, it will take a long time to persuade those that matter that this is a project that can get off the ground.