April 1, 2007
Deconstructions: Ford Airstream Concept Vehicle
A hydrogen-electric prototype out of Detroit brings fuel cells closer to the U.S. auto industry.
This month Metropolis takes detailed looks at objects ranging in scale from the microscopic to the architectural. Links to the related stories can be found at the bottom of this article.
Long a favorite of political speechwriters, hydrogen-powered vehicles have so far been all gas and no bang. Ford’s new hybrid hydrogen-electric concept vehicle is not about to make them commercially viable—that’s at least ten years off—but it does take several promising steps forward. The most important is a pared-down power train that taps the fuel cell to charge the battery instead of using it to run the car directly, allowing commuters to travel short distances on electric alone and then plug in at night. “You don’t need to depend on hydrogen as your only way to get around,” says Mujeeb Ijaz, Ford’s fuel-cell-vehicle engineering manager. “Every day you get twenty-five miles on the grid.”
Here Ijaz takes us through the features of the HySeries Drive power train, and Ford’s design manager, Jordan Bennett, tells us about the red-and-white interior, which was influenced by what he calls the “optimistic space travel” of Kubrick’s 2001. “And not the killer robot part of it,” he says.
Even though hydrogen is a very light fuel, its container gets pretty damn heavy. With the three components, there’s about 880 pounds sitting in the middle of the vehicle. We borrowed a concept from Land Rover called a “unitized body-on-frame structure.” You get the benefit of a unibody’s light weight with the advantages of a steel-frame structure.
You’ll run this as an electric car. The only time the auxiliary power unit—a fuel cell in this case—comes into play is to help keep the battery’s state of charge from going below about 40 percent. We’ve reduced the size, cost, and weight of the fuel cell by more than 50 percent, getting us a little closer to being able to commercialize it.
The compressed-hydrogen tank’s being down the center of the vehicle is no accident. We did that because we wanted to maximize its protection from side impact, frontal and rear crashes, and so forth.
We can drive 25 miles of electric-only on this battery, and then the fuel cell will turn on. Truly, an electric car needs more than 100 miles, but you only need 25 to 30 miles to do commuting distance. Every time you need to recharge, you can just plug in the car in your garage.
It’s got two electric motors—one in front and one in the rear. It’s an all-wheel drive. Typical fuel-cell vehicles are $3,000 to $4,000 per kilowatt. By doing the HySeries Drive, we’re now looking at a design that’s closer to $150 or $200 per kilowatt.