LAS VEGAS – General Motors Corp. unveils the Cadillac Provoq, a hydrogen fuel-cell concept that demonstrates a step forward in the auto maker’s E-Flex propulsion system.

“Provoq demonstrates the flexibility of the E-Flex architecture,” says Larry Burns, GM vice president-research and development. “And it demonstrates a premium execution.”

GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner is scheduled to introduce Provoq here today during a keynote address to the Consumer Electronics Show. In addition to the Provoq, Wagoner is expected to detail GM’s recent technical achievements in other areas of alternative propulsion, as well as the potential for driverless vehicles.

The 4-door, 5-passenger Provoq cross/utility vehicle uses a fuel-cell stack to power three electric motors – a 92-hp (70-kW) co-axial drive system for the front wheels and individual 54-hp (40-kW) wheel hub motors to move the rear wheels.

The fuel-cell stack represents GM’s fifth-generation fuel-cell technology, a system half the size of its predecessor with more power and performance, the auto maker says. GM predicts 0-60 mph (100 km/h) acceleration of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 100 mph (160 km/h). The electric motors provide instantaneous torque and all-wheel drive contributes traction and driving dynamics, GM says.

Two 10,000-psi (700 bar) composite storage tanks located beneath the rear cargo floor hold 13.2 lbs. (6 kg) of gaseous hydrogen to feed the fuel stack. A lithium-ion battery pack stores up to 9 kWh of electric power with peak power of 60 kW. The concept will travel 300 miles (483 km/h) on one fillup. GM says the Provoq achieves 280 of those miles (450 km) from hydrogen and the remaining 20 miles (32 km) via battery power.

The Provoq’s exterior design builds on the second generation of Cadillac’s design renaissance, led by the ’08 Cadillac CTS luxury sports sedan. Specific cues include the intricate shield-adorned grille, vertical headlamps and crisp body lines. With a “fast, coupe-like rear,” GM says the exterior also expresses a new proportion for crossovers.

But the exterior is functional, too, the auto maker says. For example, grille louvers open at low speeds when the fuel-cell stack requires cooling, and close to enhance aerodynamics at higher speeds. Solar panels integrated into Provoq’s roof help power onboard accessories, such as interior lighting and the audio system, while finned taillamps enhance its aerodynamics. The car also utilizes brake-by-wire technology.

The centerpiece of the vehicle, however, is its E-flex system, which GM introduced on the Chevrolet Volt concept at last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Volt application unites a li-ion battery with a 1.8L internal combustion engine. But unlike the Volt, the Provoq uses no petroleum and emits nothing but water vapor.

The smaller fuel-cell stack means the Provoq does not sacrifice the creature comforts luxury buyers expect, or the functionality they demand from a CUV.

Burns credits next-generation materials for the smaller stack. For instance, GM replaces composite plates within the fuel stack with a thinner, better-performing material that Burns declines to identify. He also cites continuous learning and greater parts integration.

“The previous generation fuel-cell system was more experimental,” Burns says in an interview en route to Las Vegas. “This is closer to production, so there’s more parts integration.”

But like the Volt, the Provoq features a plug-in capability that would allow owners to recharge the battery at home overnight.

The Provoq also marks GM’s first vehicle introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show, an annual gathering of electronic manufacturers that in recent years has swelled to 2,700 exhibitors and 140,000 attendees.

Cadillac General Manager Jim Taylor compares the event to the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Assn. show, a crush of aftermarket suppliers that also exhibit in Las Vegas every year.

“But it’s a totally different audience, too,” Taylor tells Ward’s prior to the vehicle’s introduction. “It’s an electronics audience, it’s West Coast – so it’s an opportunity to reach another group of people and show them some of the technical capabilities of General Motors.”

In another sense, the Las Vegas introduction essentially provides the Provoq with twice the public exposure. GM will unveil the car second time and to a more auto-centric crowd at next week’s NAIS in Detroit.

Taylor says an E-Flex application for Cadillac would make perfect sense, given the brand’s history of technological leadership.

“In the ‘20, ‘30s, ‘40s, it was Cadillac that brought the firsts to GM and the industry, so this sort of gets back to that pattern, where people expected technical innovation from us,” Taylor says.

At the same time, the Provoq hints at Cadillac’s next entry in the midsize CUV segment, which will succeed the SRX in about two years, Taylor says.

“Take out the fuel-cell system and it explores where we can take Cadillac design in the future,” he tells Ward’s. “And it shows what we can do in the crossover segment, which has become so critical to success these days.”

A CUV powered by a fuel cell would be even better, Taylor says. “There’s no reason why within one decade it can’t happen.”

jamend@wardsauto.com