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GM Autonomy Concept Vehicle
The heart of the AUTOnomy concept vehicle is its "Skateboard" chassis design incorporating a fuel cell and all-wheel electric drive.

GM AUTOnomy - - The Revolution Starts Here!

GM's big surprise at NAIAS 2002 may just revolutionize the way cars are built.

By Bill Moore

GM has finally got my heart bounding and mind racing with possibilities.

From the moment I saw the AUTOnomy concept vehicle, unveiled just last week at the 2002 North American Auto Show in Detroit, I knew the world's largest car maker had come up with something truly world-changing, a totally revolutionary concept in transportation technology.

Like many concept vehicles, you'll either love or hate the AUTOnomy with it's distinctive combination of 1930's Cord fender wells and F-22 fighter jet cockpit-style body design. Interestingly, even GM admits that it was inspired, in part, by it's early 1950's Firebird I, II, and III concept vehicles that used turbine engines and fighter jet styling to pave the way for its designs of the next two decades.

But it's not the styling that is important here. It is the concept embodied in what GM refers to as the "Skateboard," a ground-breaking, chassis design that integrates the complete fuel-cell powered drive train, controls, fuel tank, climate control system and drive-by-wire technology into a platform a mere six inches thick.

The concept is both radical and simple at the same time. GM sees itself someday manufacturing a common vehicle chassis -- perhaps no more than two or three basic designs, GM-engineers envision -- on which you can mount an infinite variety of regionally designed and built body types and styles. The same platform that supports a four door sedan, can also be used for a mini-van, SUV or pickup truck, even a Indian jitney bus or Chinese farm tractor, the company theorizes.

Even more interestingly, GM figures this new chassis design, which integrates four-wheel electric hub motors, will last as long as 20 years. This means a family could extend its car payments out over a longer period of time, if it so wishes. On top of this, GM speculates that this design will let owners not only upgrade the car's software and performance much like a computer, but even switch out body styles whenever they want.

One scenario might go something like this. Your kids have left home and you're ready to trade in the minivan after nine years of faithful pollution-free service. It was also nine years that never once involved an oil change or even a stop at a muffler shop.

Instead of trading in the entire car, you trade-in just the minivan body and exchange it for a four-door pickup or luxury sedan body, all of which the company thinks can be recycled and made into other products.

Much like your personal computer, GM simply upgrades the software and maybe exchanges the fuel cell stack modules for a more powerful or newer version and you've got a "brand new" car using the same "Skateboard."

It's a fascinating idea and one that may just be the catalyst for moving us beyond the internal combustion engine and gasoline. GM even conceptualizes refueling the vehicle at home using the same natural gas that fires the family furnace and heats the hot water. Work is progressing on membrane technology that will reduce the cost of making hydrogen out of natural gas or other readily available fossil fuels. [See "Cheaper H2"]

And the company has been listening to proponents of vehicle-to-grid technology, which EV World had championed for several years now, that will let fuel cell vehicle owners run their homes, businesses or farms from the electricity generated by the fuel cell on the "Skateboard" in the event of a power outage.

We at EV World are so excited about this concept, that we immediately contact GM to set up an interview. If all goes according to plan, we'll have an exclusive interview with Chris Borroni-Bird, the program manager for the AUTOnomy on next week's edition of EV World. We hope to learn much more about this breakthrough concept.

In the meantime, we'd thought you'd enjoy looking at some of the concept vehicle images usually reserved for the media. Click the thumbnail images below to view larger versions of these photos and computer illustrations. Pictured in the first photo are GM President CEO Rick Wagoner (left) and VP for R&D Larry Burns (right) at the official NAIAS unveiling last week.

And congratulations to GM for what EV World hopes will be the beginning of a revolution... an EV revolution.

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Times Article Viewed: 8942
Published: 12-Jan-2002

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