Final Inspection

Hawaii Hot Bed for What Comes Next

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Who knew when the U.S. first got its hands on Hawaii back in 1898 there eventually would be an automotive angle to the story?

But more than 100 years later, the now 50th state – surrounded by water and with limited distances to drive – is playing a key role in future automotive-technology development.

The latest evidence of that is General Motors’ plan to install 20-25 hydrogen fueling stations on the island of Oahu by 2015. Dubbed the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative, or H2I, the program will make hydrogen available to all of Oahu’s 1 million residents, the auto maker says.

The objective is to wean the market off its 90% dependence on imported oil, but maybe more importantly it also will provide a cost-effective, real-world lab for fuel-cell vehicles that could lead to proliferation of the technology in other markets.

H2I is the next step in GM’s Project Driveway FCV program that already has put more than 100 hydrogen-powered Equinox cross/utility vehicles into small demonstration fleets around the U.S. and elsewhere.

The auto maker says it is expanding its cooperation with Oahu-based The Gas Co., which has been supplying hydrogen fuel for the Equinox FCV program in Hawaii, and is working with several other companies, agencies and universities to bring the hydrogen infrastructure program to fruition.

“In Hawaii, we want to address the proverbial chicken or egg dilemma,” Charles Freese, executive director of GM Fuel Cell Activities, says in a statement. “There has always been a looming issue over how to ensure that the vehicles and the necessary hydrogen refueling infrastructure are delivered to market at the same time. Our efforts in Hawaii will help us meet that challenge.

“Once the key hydrogen infrastructure elements are proven in Hawaii, other states can adopt similar approaches,” Freese says. “Germany, Japan and Korea are all building hydrogen infrastructures within this same timeframe. The work in Hawaii can provide a template for other regions.”

GM isn’t alone in identifying Hawaii as the perfect place to try to begin selling the buying public on new technology.

California’s Better Place has pegged the state as a potential testing ground for its electric-vehicle battery-swap initiative, following a rollout of its change-on-the-fly concept in Israel, Denmark and Australia. Earlier this year, Nissan inked a pact with the state government to develop a public EV-charging infrastructure.

California may drive the car-buying fashion trends of today, but keep an eye on Hawaii. It may tell us a lot about what type of vehicles people will be willing to purchase tomorrow.

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