Trucks at Work
A fuel cell truck trains for war

A fuel cell truck trains for war

When the phrase “military vehicles” comes to mind, usually images of tanks, heavy trucks, and jeeps – both classic and modern – tend to follow.

But a fuel-cell powered truck? Being tested for battle worthiness? Hardly.

Yet that is exactly what General Motors and the U.S. Army are working on together with the new Colorado ZH2: a demonstration vehicle based on the Chevrolet Colorado mid-sized pickup truck platform that runs on electricity generated by a hydrogen-powered fuel cell.

“The Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 is part of a multiyear cooperative partnership between GM’s engineering team and the U.S. military,” noted Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Business division, during the vehicle’s unveiling this week at the annual SEMA show. “We are putting the ZH2 to work on Army bases around the country, and it will be in the hands of real-world war fighters.”

In fact, the Army will begin its “evaluation” of the ZH2 sometime in early 2017.

“The ZH2 integrates the strong foundation of the Colorado midsize pickup architecture with GM’s hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology,” added Jim Campbell, vice president of Chevrolet performance vehicles and motorsports. “It combines the lessons Chevrolet has learned during 3.1 million real-world miles of testing hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles.”

The ZH2 (seen at right) actually shares several components with the production-grade Colorado, including the cab, doors and roof. However, GM noted that the “standard” Colorado cab got moved back 125 millimeters to accommodate 37-in. off-road tires.

At the front, the ZH2 hood incorporates a power dome to accommodate a transversely mounted fuel cell stack, the OEM said, moving the cooling system to the rear of the vehicle to help regulate temperatures while exporting electric power in a stationary, hot environment.

The reason the Colorado ZH2 looks almost nothing like its civilian brother is due to the packaging requirements for the fuel cell system, additional “stationary power generation” components (we’ll get to that in a minute) and extra chassis hardware to boost off-road performance (this IS a military-grade vehicle, after all; it’s got to go where the fighting is).

The rear of the ZH2 features a clamshell-style cover that integrates air intakes feeding radiators honeycombed behind the rear doors. Moving the air intake near the roof line lessens the amount of dust and dirt ingested into the radiator during extreme conditions, GM noted.

The clamshell also houses an exportable power take-off (EPTO) electric power conditioning unit that allows the vehicle operator to draw high-voltage D/C from the fuel cell – either at 25 kilowatts (kW) continuously or at a peak of 50 kW – and convert it to both high- and low-voltage A/C (240 volt or 120 volt).

Remember the “stationary power generation” aspect of the ZH2 design mentioned earlier? That EPTO capability allows the truck to power a subdivision, tools, communications equipment or a small field hospital for hours. That really gives it a “Swiss army knife”-like properties.

The hood, front fenders, rear fenders and bed hatch on the ZH2 are all fabricated from carbon fiber with Kevlar reinforcements for maximum strength, impact resistance, and light weight. The ZH2 also features a custom 30-inch LED [light emitting diode] light bar, custom turn signals, and 7-in. front headlights.

Of course, this truck will be heading into battle in all kinds of unfavorable conditions, so GM made sure to engineer it chassis for serious off-road use.

It starts with 37-in. BF Goodrich tires mounted to 17-in. "beadlock" wheels. Power is transferred from the 93 kW fuel cell to the 132-kW electric motor, which produces 236 lb.-ft. of instantaneous torque. That torque is then delivered to the transfer case and a 4-wheel drive system with front- and rear- electronic locking differentials, GM said.

Off-road performance is further boosted by proprietary damper technology that provides body control for trail running and expanded wheel travel for rock crawling, the OEM noted – though it’s keeping the “technical details” about those dampers under wraps for now.

Though calibration testing and validation are currently underway, GM expects the Colorado ZH2 to sport some pretty serious off-road chops, such as:

  • 12 inches of ground clearance
  • 48-degree approach angle and 39-degree departure angle
  • Top speed above 60 mph
  • Ability to ascend, descend and restart on 40% grade
  • A 20% "side slope" capability

Other ZH2 specifications include:

  • 6:1 gear ratio
  • Estimated 6,038 lbs. curb weight
  • Estimated 7,338 lbs. GVWR (gross vehicle weight)
  • 133.5 in. wheelbase
  • 67.4 in. track width
  • 210.5 overall length
  • 79.8 in. overall height
  • 84.5 in. overall width (including mirrors)
  • 80.3 in. overall width (tire-to-tire)
  • 35 in. front overhang
  • 42 in. rear overhang
  • 25 ft. curb-to-curb turning radius

That is one seriously mean truck. But soon the Army will put the Colorado ZH2 through its version of vehicle “boot camp” to see if that truck can hold up to the rigors of war.

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