General Motors Corp. will launch a large-scale experiment involving fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) next year when it gives the keys to 100 hydrogen-fueled Chevrolet Equinox cross/utility vehicles to consumers in three U.S. cities.

The auto maker takes the wraps off its adapted '07 Chevy Equinox FCV, which it will lease to select drivers in Los Angeles, New York and Washington in 3-month stints.

Expected to cover a 200-mile (322-km) range, the FCV will top out at 100 mph (161 km/h) and go from 0-60 (97 km/h) in 12 seconds, GM says.

“We've gotten to the point where we need to move it out of the lab and into the market,” Byron McCormick, director of GM's fuel-cell program, says at the recent unveiling.

GM product chief Bob Lutz wrote on a GM blog that if the auto maker hits cost targets and sees progress on the effort, dubbed Project Driveway, “the next step would be about a 1,000-vehicle fleet in the 2010-2012 timeframe.”

Although Honda Motor Co. Ltd. is leasing an FCV test model to a family in California, GM's direct-to-consumer strategy is a departure from that of some other OEMs, many of which have created fuel-cell powered city buses and/or fleet FCVs.

Until now, GM has tended to do the same, with fuel-cell pickup trucks in testing with the Army and fuel-cell minivans in fleet use in New York.

McCormick says the plan is to get consumers to make an “emotional connection” with the vehicles, while demonstrating FCVs can be practical. The FCVs should change hands a dozen times or more over the course of their test cycle.