"We definitely feel there is a role for steering wheel and foot pedals in the near term," says Borroni-Bird. "So we are open to both approaches at this point."
The idea of snap-on bodies that drivers could change to suit their whims has been discarded, but the advantage of a modular design has not been lost. The Hy-wire body is fixed to the chassis with 10 old-fashioned rubber bushings and bolts, and GM could develop various body styles for the self-contained skateboard. "That makes so much more sense," observes Shekar Gopalan, vice president of research and consulting for Frost & Sullivan. "Now we are talking about a standard in manufacturing processes and building economies of scale."
Hy-wire's pointy nose gives occupants an unobstructed view of the road, dramatically emphasizing the space gains that come with the skateboard design. But Borroni-Bird admits this was done more for effect; safety requirements will put firewalls, airbags, and knee bolsters in future designs. "For the Hy-wire, we were just basically conveying the concept that there is no engine compartment," says Borroni-Bird.
Hy-wire is version 2.0 of a rolling initiative; GM won't say when version 3.0 will appear, but says it's working on an accelerated schedule. The next iteration will use a purpose-built fuel cell that comes closer to the 6-inch thickness standard. Hydrogen tanks will pack the fuel in at 10,000 psi to extend range.
Meanwhile, fuel cell and drive-by-wire technologies will continue to evolve in conventionally designed cars later this decade. Real-world experience with these technologies will set the stage, Borroni-Bird believes, for a realization of an Autonomy-inspired car that will deliver the advantages of the skateboard concept.
"We expect those technologies to be where they need to be in 2007 or so," he says. "Which would allow us to go into production in 2010."
-Reported by Dan Carney
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.