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GM unveils Hy-wire fuel cell prototype

DETROIT, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- When General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner discussed the AUTOnomy fuel cell-powered vehicle eight months ago, many thought the talk of reinventing the car was just pie-in-the-sky.

GM Wednesday gave reporters a look at Hy-wire, the world's first drivable fuel cell vehicle controlled by wireless electronic drive-by-wire technology. The concept will be shown to the public at next month's Paris Motor Show.

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The futuristic five-passenger sedan is powered by a 94-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell stack and operated by wireless handheld controls called "X-drive" that send commands to electronic modules in the vehicle. Non-polluting hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity with only water and heat as byproducts.

Unlike pure electric cars, they do not have to be plugged in and recharged or gassed up like hybrids that use gasoline engines and electric motors, but an infrastructure of hydrogen refueling stations would have to be constructed to make them practical for everyday use.

All of the touring sedan's propulsion and control systems are contained in an 11-inch-thick skateboardlike all-aluminum chassis. There is no engine compartment, no foot pedals, no transmission -- only the movable X-drive unit to steer and brake and motors to power the wheels.

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The front and rear panels are transparent fiberglass.

"The fact that we developed Hy-wire as a drivable concept vehicle in just eight months shows our commitment to this technology and the speed at which we are progressing," Wagoner said, releasing photographs of the prototype in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"With AUTOnomy, GM shared a vision. Hy-wire accelerates our progress with a functional proof which strengthens our confidence in our ability to gain marketplace acceptance of production fuel cell vehicles."

Weighing in at a hefty 4,180 pounds, Hy-wire has a range of 70 mpg and a top speed of 97 mph. The range would have to increase to around 300 miles before fuel cell cars reach showrooms in eight years, said Larry Burns, vice president of research and development and planning.

The low-slung sedan rides on 20-inch tires in front and 22-inch tires in the rear.

"We are driving to have compelling and affordable fuel cell cars on the road by the end of the decade," Burns said. "With Hy-wire, we have taken the technology as it exists today and packaged it into an innovative drivable vehicle comparable in size and weight to today's luxury automobiles."

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