Costly Fuel Cell Cars Appear at U.N. Conference

Chronicle reporter takes pair of hydrogen fuel cell cars for test drives during five-day U.N. World Environment Day in San Francisco.

Published: 03-Jun-2005

Aside from a few odd names and identification logos plastered to their roofs and flanks, the cars assembled on the green of San Francisco's Civic Center on Wednesday looked like, smelled like and, well, drove like most of the quiet, comfortable if not very exciting cars you can buy in any American showroom for $25,000 or so.

There were only two differences: Each of these nearly hand-made cars may well have cost $1 million -- General Motors puts that price tag on its "HydroGen3" -- and their power plants run on hydrogen, a fuel not easily found at the corner gas station.

The excuse for having the cars in San Francisco was the United Nation's World Environment Day five-day conference -- these cars that emit only water vapor are very clean. But the real point was that all of the world's big auto manufacturers are competing fiercely for what is likely to be a lucrative market a few decades from now, once the world realizes that its supply of oil is finite and something else will be needed to power the 17 million new cars and light trucks Americans buy each year.

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