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Friday, May 29, 2015

Weird Car of the Week: GM’s Hydrogen-Powered Handi-van

Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.
GM Electrovan 2

Think the hydrogen fuel cell is a new invention? Think again. The first hydrogen fuel cells were developed in London in 1838, and it took over a century before they were commercially used in NASA’s 1962 Gemini mission.

But what many people don’t know is that soon after NASA’s Gemini mission, General Motors used that very same technology to power…a van? More accurately, an Electrovan.

GM Electrovan 3
What Makes It Unique?

The initial concept was drawn up by GM engineer Craig Marks after seeing the success of the Gemini mission. But it took a team of over 250 designers and engineers to figure out exactly how it worked.

Union Carbide supplied them with the fuel cell and the body was from a standard GMC Handi-van. Combining the two, Marks and his team of engineers were able to create the world’s first passenger hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, complete with 550-feet of piping throughout, and room enough (barely) for two people.

Total output of the vehicle was 32kw (42 horsepower), and top speed was a blistering 70 mph. Arguably the most impressive feature of all, though, was the estimated range of 150 miles. That’s more than some electric cars on the road today.

Handivan Interior

What Happened To It?

After GM showed off the concept to press and potential customers in 1966, the entire project was scrapped. GM attributes lack of infrastructure at the time and expensive development costs to the death of this concept. Not to mention an exploding hydrogen tank that left many questioning its safety.

GM made one more attempt with a hydrogen-powered Corvair, but ultimately, the idea was scrapped for many years. GM reintroduced the concept of a hydrogen-powered vehicle in 2002 with the Hy-Wire sedan, and has since gone on to produce a fleet of hydrogen-powered SUVs.
But it all started with one little Handi-van.