More stories related to 2005 NAIAS DETROIT – Maybe by focusing on the future, General Motors Corp. will distract some critics from talking about the present.

GM, which regularly is bashed for selling too many gas-chugging trucks without offering consumers meaningful fuel-savings alternatives for personal transportation, shows off the capability of its forthcoming full-hybrid system as well as its third fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) concept here at the 2005 North American International Auto Show.

But both technologies will not appear until later this decade, at the earliest.

GM’s Advanced Hybrid System 2 (AHS2), which is due to be launched in 2007 on the auto maker’s fullsize SUVs, is displayed in the Opel Astra diesel front-wheel-drive concept vehicle and the GMC Graphyte gasoline all-wheel-drive midsize SUV.

GM Sequel

GM detailed its AHS2 technology when the auto maker announced Dec. 13 that the system would be used as the basis for a cooperative hybrid development program with DaimlerChrysler AG. (See related story: GM, DC Reach Hybrid Pact)

The hydrogen-powered Sequel fuel-cell concept is modeled after the Cadillac SRX cross/utility vehicle and is a big leap toward reality from GM’s futuristic-looking fuel-cell vehicle predecessors, the AUTOnomy and Hy-wire concepts. But GM is not moving up its goal to commercialize fuel cells by 2010.

“This is a real car,” says Larry Burns, GM vice president-Research and Development and Planning. “And it’s a doable real car. But it’s not affordable.”

In fact, Burns admits GM has a lot of work to do before FCVs become reasonably priced. Asked how far along GM is in the auto industry’s marathon to FCV affordability, Burns replies: “We’re probably at about mile 10” – or less than halfway.

Nonetheless, the Sequel is impressive for its advanced technologies and similarity to current cars and trucks.

There are advanced technologies such as fuel cells, wheel hub motors and by-wire systems that improve braking and torque as well as common amenities, including climate control and navigation system.

“Sequel helps address major societal issues, from eliminating auto emissions, to helping the world transition to renewable and stable energy supplies, to reducing the chance for crashes and traffic congestion,” Burns says.

The Sequel sits on the latest rendition of GM’s “skateboard chassis,” an 11-in. (28-cm) thick frame that packages the vehicle’s propulsion and control systems.

“The improvements are dramatic, and continue to come quick and fast,” Burns says. “We’ve achieved remarkable gains in range and acceleration by using our fuel-cell system technology that exists today. That’s a real breakthrough. For anyone tracking the viability of fuel-cell vehicles, this is encouraging news.”

Sequel travels up to 300 miles (483 km) on its hydrogen supply, and accelerates to 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 10 seconds, GM claims. Current-generation fuel-cell concept vehicles have a range between 170-250 miles (274-402 km) and cover 0-60 mph in 12-16 seconds, depending upon whether a battery is used.

As GM continues to make its by-wire systems for braking, accelerating and handling characteristics smaller and lighter, vehicle performance will improve. “Anything that allows us to reduce the size of the battery pack and storage tanks means more room for a larger fuel cell, which increases vehicle performance,” says Nick Zielinski, GM vehicle chief engineer-Advanced System Integration.

The Astra concept vehicle is equipped with the AHS2 and a 1.7L diesel engine. The Graphyte uses AHS2 combined with GM’s 5.3L V-8 featuring Displacement on Demand cylinder deactivation technology. Both vehicles deliver up to 25% improved fuel economy.

GM currently offers a “mild” hybrid system with its fullsize pickups on a low-volume basis. It also supplies full hybrid technology to hundreds of commuter buses in numerous U.S. cities.

While the Astra mimics the appearance of a current production vehicle, the Graphyte does not closely resemble any GM midsize SUV. Graphyte’s fast, 40-degree windshield, swept headlamps and tapered roofline convey a wind-driven look.

The interior has two large skylights, Mokanto wood veneer, aluminum trim and gray leather accents. The rear seats have a unique 1-2-3 folding capability, allowing the backs of all three seating positions to be folded flat and independent of one another.

Drive-by-wire controls for the hybrid drive system are located in the center console – a button to select drive, reverse or park.

A liquid crystal display shows screen the hybrid system’s functional details, while a large, 2-bin instrument panel in front of the driver provides conventional analog gauge readouts for the speedometer, tachometer and other instruments. The console screen also provides access to the vehicle’s satellite navigation system and other infotainment options. Another screen folds down from an overhead console for rear-seat passengers to view.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com