GM Unveils Its Hydrogen-Powered Chevrolet SUV

General Motors hopes to counter its anti-environmentalist image with hydrogen vehicles.

The company used a San Diego event this week to unveil a skateboard-like hydrogen fuel-cell prototype called Sequel, and to announce "Project Driveway," its plan to deliver 100 hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox SUVs to various individuals in New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles next year.

While Honda, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota all have hydrogen fuel cell programs, GM hopes to beat them at producing the vehicles in volume. GM plans to have 1,000 such vehicles on the road by 2010.

Jim Sanfilippo, an analyst with AMCI, Detroit, notes that GM has a huge share of the Chinese market. He says it is no coincidence that GM used a Chevrolet vehicle for the program. "Chevrolet is going to be GM's global brand, and China will be the world's first hydrogen economy," he sats.

GM will also infuse next month's divisional ads for Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks with messages about the fact that the new trucks can run on either gasoline or a gasoline/ethanol blend called E85.



Marketing for trucks will be particularly heavy this year. Toyota is preparing a $100 million fall marketing effort for its forthcoming 2007 Tundra pickup truck, and Nissan has a push planned next month for its 2007 Titan hauler.

While pickup truck and SUV sales have plummeted this year, analysts say there is good news on the horizon, as lower gasoline prices give new life to the segment. "The ration of trucks to cars is up significantly this month. By and large we are seeing the beginnings of the tide shift," says Sanfilippo. Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association, concurs--noting that with prices at the pump settling at $2.50 a gallon, "the consumer is now thinking that gas prices are going to be from $2 to $3 per gallon, and not worried that they will continue to escalate."

DaimlerChrysler on Tuesday said it is cutting production by 135,000 units in the second half to reduce its glut of unsold trucks and SUV models. The automaker's U.S. sales were even more dire than the overall industry's. DaimlerChrysler sales were down 8 percent in the first eight months of 2006, compared to an industrywide decline of 4 percent.

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