I Get to Drive Toyota's Highlander Fuel Cell SUV
The first thing you notice about Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell SUV is that you hardly feel like you're driving. It's more like you're floating. When the engine kicks in, you don't get the jolt that you do with a car that runs on gasoline. It's not even like a typical hybrid, which starts you off on battery power before handing you off to the fossil-fuel engine.
Instead, the converted Highlander I drove to my dentist Friday morning was a hybrid of a different kind. A nickel-metal hydride battery still got the car moving from a standstill, but where an ordinary engine would sit under the hood, burning up dead dinosaurs, was an electric motor hooked up to four tanks holding 5 kilos of hydrogen gas.
Unlike with ordinary cars, the fuel isn't burned. It's passed through a membrane that turns the hydrogen gas into water — a process that draws on outside air to create electricity for the engine. Fuel cell technology sounds like science fiction. But it's coming very soon to the mass market: Hyundai has plans to introduce a commercial fuel cell vehicle as early as this year, and Toyota will debut its hydrogen-powered car in 2015.
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