GM, Army Unveil Fuel-Cell Colorado Prototype

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By Fred Meier

GM and the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center Monday pulled the sheet off a jointly developed hydrogen fuel-cell electric prototype pickup truck, a heavily modified Chevrolet Colorado dubbed the ZH2.

Charlie Freese, head of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities, and Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC, presented the truck at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and military trade exposition amid displays of everything from boots and small arms to antitank missiles, combat vehicles and Predator drones from around the world.

The project leading to the camouflaged and khaki Colorado ZH2 (H2 for the hydrogen fuel; Z because, well, it's a Chevy) began in 2015, moving from contract to prototype at a speed that would be impressive even if it wasn't a collaboration of the government and giant GM. Rogers credited the auto industry/Army partnership that leveraged about $4 billion in fuel-cell research already done by GM. And GM said the company will benefit from the military testing the limits of fuel cells. It also would get added benefits of scale for its civilian efforts should the military decide to use it in some form.


Our first impression is that it's simply a good-looking truck — no accident, since design was done at GM's North Hollywood design center. Engineering and construction were done in the GM and TARDEC labs in Warren, Mich. The vehicle will begin a year of rugged field testing in 2017.

The truck sits on a Colorado short-wheelbase chassis stretched about 5 inches to a 133.5 wheelbase; overall length gains about 2 inches. The suspension is heavily beefed up for Army use, but the 4x4 system is essentially the Colorado setup with a locking rear differential. The cabin is a steel Colorado crew cab, while the truck has new composite front and rear ends. Seating is for four and the prototype features Recaro sport seats with six-point harnesses.

Up front under the domed hood is a 92-kilowatt fuel-cell stack that uses hydrogen to generate electricity for the motor. It is the same GM first-generation design used in the Project Driveway test of 119 fuel-cell Chevrolet Equinox SUVs that began in 2007.

While the stack is about the size of a Chevy small-block V-8, that unit was chosen for this test, Freese said, because of its more than 3-million-mile reliability record in those SUVs. A second-generation unit on display at the show puts out the same power but is about the size of an inline four-cylinder. And GM officials said the next-gen stack being developed in partnership with Honda will be smaller still.

The stack powers a 135-kW motor that puts out about 185 horsepower. The system also uses a 60-kW battery to recapture energy from slowing and braking; it supplements the fuel-cell power to the motor. Overall range on a fill-up of hydrogen is about 200 miles.

The composite humped rear end with big side vents houses the three large cylinders of compressed hydrogen fuel sitting between the frame rails, as well as the heat exchangers for the fuel-cell temperature and cabin climate control. The tanks, also adapted from the Equinox vehicles, have a plastic liner in a carbon fiber shell and have been extensively crash-tested.

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The truck's new ends and their flared fender openings over the vehicle's fat 37-inch diameter tires on 20-inch wheels (that look great) add about 6 inches to the Colorado's width; the track is about 5 inches wider.

Ground clearance is boosted to 11.8 inches, from 8.2 in a Colorado Z71, and the off-road capability benefits from approach and departure angles about doubled from the Z71 to 48 degrees and 39 degrees respectively. The center of gravity is 33.5 inches.

All that bulking up brings curb weight up to a hefty 6,038 pounds, but Freese pointed out that by military standards it remains a light and compact vehicle suitable for air drop. Payload is 1,300 pounds, towing was not specified.

Why Use a Fuel-Cell Pickup?

Advantages for military missions include that the electric vehicle is stealthily quiet and has a much lower heat signature than a combustion engine — the stack generates some heat but not so much you could not touch it. It also can be refueled much faster than a comparable battery electric vehicle.

A potential bonus in some environments is that the fuel-cell stack generates only water vapor as exhaust and creates about 2 gallons of water per hour of use. The vehicle also could be used as a stationary power source for electronic gear. Under a rear cover on the prototype Colorado is an electric power takeoff unit capable of providing 25 kW of continuous power with a peak of 50 kW.

While some might question whether a mid-size pickup could have a role in some of the same situations as a military vehicle, it's worth noting that the Toyota Hilux continues to be a vehicle of choice for paramilitary and irregular forces from North Africa to Afghanistan.

While GM has more fuel-cell patents overall than any other company, Japanese and South Korean companies continue to develop the technology as well. Toyota has its Mirai on the road in California. A new-generation 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is due out this winter following on the FCX Clarity built from 2008 to 2014. And Hyundai rolled out a fuel-cell-powered Tucson SUV for California during the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The military has been interested in fuel-cell technology for many years for a variety of applications, ranging down to small portable electronics. Also on display at the GM booth was a second fuel-cell collaboration with the military, an unmanned undersea vehicle using a stack similar to that used in the Colorado ZH2. photos by Fred Meier


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Cool looking truck.

Why not a production version? Give the customer what they want, not what you think they should get. Oh, and they want it for 40k negotiated price!

very plasticy and military grade is already being used, nice try to copy cat GM as usual

Ladies and Gentlemen the real miliary grade trucks, GM trucks.

Can we stop calling this a Colorado because it has little to do with the production Colorado!

It is a hybrid custom vehicle!

Where is Fords hybrid truck crickets...... Guess they still working on it with the blue prints they stole from Toyota and that Tesla Model X they pay over $50,000 grand sticker price on.

LOL they don't want another C max failure with made up MPG numbers.

Ford another 4 dollars and 5 years to late to the show.

U.S. Special Forces use Toyota's abroad and they will continue to use them because they blend in with the local vehicles folks drive, so this project is yet another example of WASTE for the military industrial complex!

The size of a small-block V8 huh?.............

I want it with a V8 and delivered in my driveway. NOW!!!!

very plasticy and military grade is already being used, nice try to copy cat GM as usual

Posted by: Nitro | Oct 5, 2016 9:01:48 AM

You mean the Military Grade that can't stop a tool box? Ford and FAIL, both 4 letter words, how appropriate.


Here's a example of Fords military grade quality,,,,,LOL

Since the government always contracts to the cheapest bidder I guess GM builds their trucks the cheapest? Lol

Military grade trucks are Toyota's in Iraq and Syria as Special Forces continue to use Toyota's...

First thing I noticed is a Chevy with round wheel wells, who would have thought.

Put a 5 foot bed on the back, call it ZR2 and I will buy it tomorrow

Oh, I get it now. Government Motors. If they have the name, they might as well have the product to go with it.

I like it. But it needs to go full camo or no camo at all.

Anyone who knows their truck history knows that GM has had a long standing relationship with the military. This truck is packing some serious technology and I think it looks great!

It looks like one of those Fisher Price toy trucks. The only true military-grade pickups are the 2017 Ford F-Series. Built Ford Tough baby! Often imitated, never duplicated.

It looks like one of those Fisher Price toy trucks. The only true military-grade pickups are the 2017 Ford F-Series. Built Ford Tough baby! Often imitated, never duplicated.

Posted by: Ecoboost Owner | Oct 5, 2016 5:55:48 PM

Hope your right about the 2017 f-series. The 2015 and 2016 f- series weren't safe for anyone including the military.

Hope they don't have as many electrical problems with their Colorado as I keep having with mine.

I hope it gets a lot smaller as it's tough to see the roadway over that engine hood.

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