General Motors Corp. signals its fuel-cell vehicle development is moving from theory to reality, as it shifts more than 500 fuel-cell experts from its advanced development laboratories into its core engineering operations.

More than 400 fuel-cell engineers now will report to GM’s Powertrain Group, as production engineering of the technology gets under way. Another 100 engineers will be shifted to GM’s Global Product Development organization to begin work integrating fuel cells into future vehicles.

In addition, GM says more than 150 fuel-cell scientists and support staff will remain at its Research and Development center to further work on hydrogen storage and fuel-cell technology, as well as program commercialization.

“Eight years ago we said that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle technology could make a major contribution to solving the energy and environmental challenges facing the automobile industry,” Larry Burns, vice president-Research and Development, says in a statement. “Today’s announcement signals another important milestone as we move fuel cell vehicles closer to future production.”

Leading the engineering team is J. Byron McCormick, currently executive director-GM Fuel Cell Activities. He will report to Dan Hancock, GM Powertrain vice president-global engineering, and John Buttermore, GM Powertrain vice president-global manufacturing.

GM this year will put more than 100 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles in the hands of consumers as part of test programs in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

It also has said it wants to have its E-Flex technology, which features both plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell technology and serves as the basis for the Chevrolet Volt concept, production ready by the end of 2009.