Washington, DC-based Fuel Cell News quotes General Motors Corp. for fuel cell developments that indicate GM may focus its initial fuel-cell vehicle marketing at Cadillac Div.

Fuel Cell News reports GM says:

  • A methanol-fueled fuel cell version of the Opel Zafira, will debut at the Paris Motor Show and is planned for production in 2004.

  • GM fuel cell technology is focused on Cadillac customers, who GM thinks will pay more for environmentally friendly “status.”

This suggests a fuel-cell system will be significantly more costly than current-technology powerplants — even five years hence — and raises some questions.

First, will luxury buyers be willing to pay another premium to be “green?” And if cost-effective methods to reform gasoline to hydrogen onboard the vehicle are not developed, will methanol or pure hydrogen infrastructure be adequate, and at what cost? Finally, will fuel-cell technology offer comparable performance to advanced piston engines working with better-quality fuel?

On the other hand, California emissions mandates still require automakers to produce and supply 10% of new vehicles in the zero-emissions category by 2003. Aside from how GM's Cadillac focus fits the 10% target, if the fuel choice is methanol, its availability and safe handling will require monitoring.