General Motors and Autocar Industries LLC have signed a joint development agreement to create a range of zero tailpipe emissions vocational vehicles powered by GM’s Hydrotec power cubes.
Autocar, a provider of customized vocational trucks, views this initiative as an important expansion in offering robust, zero tailpipe emissions solutions to customers. Fuel cell technology offers an additional energy propulsion option to support Autocar’s vocational customers’ move toward U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.
Hydrogen fuel cells are a key component of GM’s electrification strategy that extends beyond battery-powered passenger vehicles. Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity through an electrochemical reaction. The fuel cell enables the conversion of energy stored in hydrogen into electricity to power a vehicle.
Since fuel cells are lightweight and enable large payloads, excellent range, quiet operation and rapid refueling, they can meet the needs of the heaviest duty applications. With regulations rapidly changing in many countries, fuel cell-powered vehicles have the added advantage of zero tailpipe emissions when compared with diesel vehicles.
“EV propulsion systems like GM’s Ultium Platform are great solutions for electrifying passenger vehicles, but larger vehicles like Autocar’s Class 8 trucks, refuse trucks and terminal tractors require robust solutions that enable significant energy carrying capacity and fast refueling times,” says Charlie Freese, GM executive director, Global Hydrotec. “We want to enable zero tailpipe emissions solutions for the largest, highest energy-consuming vehicles, and fuel cells are ideal for the most energy intensive applications.”
These jointly developed trucks will be powered by Hydrotec power cubes, which are GM’s fuel cell propulsion system solution for these demanding commercial vehicles. Hydrotec power cubes are compact, easy to package, scalable and can electrify vehicles and applications across a variety of industries, including freight trucking.
The first of these vehicles is expected to go into production in 2026 at the Autocar Truck Plant in Birmingham, Ala. Vehicles with Hydrotec technology will be built to order by Autocar and will be sold directly to customers. Cement mixers, roll-off trucks and dump trucks, which all share a common architecture, will be built first, followed by refuse trucks and terminal tractors.
“Autocar provides customized vocational trucking solutions, and as regulations change, we see Hydrotec fuel cells as an additional avenue for our customers to meet their EPA requirements with zero tailpipe emissions vehicles,” says Eric Schwartz, president of Autocar. “GM’s scale, reliability and the capability of their Hydrotec fuel cell technology will enhance Autocar’s existing platforms.”
Each power cube contains more than 300 hydrogen fuel cells, along with thermal and power management systems and proprietary controls to fuel cell and battery life and performance while optimizing cold-start capability. The Hydrotec power cube provides 77 kw of power and is much quieter than a conventional diesel propulsion system. Multiple power cubes can be arrayed in a vehicle for even higher power ratings.
Triz Engineering will provide expert integration support for power distribution between the fuel cell and batteries, which store electricity captured from regenerative braking or created by the Hydrotec power cubes. Triz is a commercial vehicle engineering company owned by GVW Group, which also owns Autocar.
The Hydrotec fuel cell power cubes will be produced by GM in Brownstown, Mich.