I am in the Ford Edge HySeries Drive crossover, and Mujeeb Ijaz, Ford's director of fuel-cell vehicles, is in the passenger seat, pointing out its many buttons and displays. "So I just drive away like normal?" I ask, disoriented by the strange, detailed gauges and the rearranged instrument panel. The hazard and traction-control buttons have migrated from the center console to near the overhead lighting. In their place are buttons for battery-power-only mode, high-torque sport mode, and two fuel-cell power rates (15 or 35Kw). The cluster has two fuel gauges, and the tachomoter makes way for a wattage meter. "Yep, just like normal," says Ijaz, and I watch the wattage dial ping up from 0 to 35 Kilowatts. A mildly neck-snapping surge of acceleration gets us up to about 30 mph on the deserted, lattice-like streets of Detroit. I was expecting-no that's wrong; for the first time, I didn't know what to expect. Is this an electric car? A fuel-cell-powered car? A hybrid of some sort? I hadn't read the hand-out material. What I feel, on this small jaunt around town, is neither the controlled explosions of a conventional engine nor the purely linear whoosh of an monorail. This is somewhere in between-the torque of an internal combustor fused to the smoothness of an electric motor. For the first time driving an alt-fuel vehicle, I don't feel like I'm wearing a hairshirt. But what exactly is going on here?
"I call this the first electric/electric hybrid," says Ijaz. "Unlike other hybrids, which are driven by a small internal combustion engine backed up by an electric motor, this runs on battery power only. The battery gets recharged by an on-board fuel-cell, but you could use a gas or diesel engine, too." Ijaz walks around to the driver's side: "It plugs into your house at night with either 110 or 220 power at this front port, and you refill the Hydrogen at this fuel filler at the back. The fuel cell never directly drives the wheels, only the battery does." And verily, it laughs at your Prius's 50 mpg: If you plug in at night and drive 50 miles a day you will be saving 70 percent on your annual fuel bill. The Edge HySeries Drive's energy costs work out to 65 cents per mile. Ford estimates that if we had the residents of all our major cities running on plug-ins like these, we'd use 40 percent less fuel.
But wait a sec. Won't plugging in every night overtax the energy grid? No, Ijaz maintains: Energy plants have excess capacity at night, and using them 24 hours a day only adds stability. The biggest hurdle to getting the battery-powered cars on the road is the range of the battery (25 miles) and cost per lithium-ion battery pack ($50,000) (!). Through aerodynamics and weight saving, Ford is working on getting the battery range up to acceptable commuter range (about 40 miles) so that Hydrogen fill-ups would only be necessary on long trips.
So...um...how do you get the Hydrogen? It's the world's most abundant element, yet it's also elusive. It's the natural-resource equivalent of Brian Wilson. Getting it onto the road it isn't going to be easy. "The pessimists say you need to spend trillions to provide a Hydrogen infrastructure. But we've calculated the costs differently, based on the fact that we could put natural-gas steam reformers at filling stations. We have 170,000 gas stations in the USA. If one-seventh of these had a hydrogen pump at a cost per station of $110,000, it would cost $2.6 billion. We spend that in how many days at war?" Uh, 13.
Back in the Edge, Ijaz is showing me how the power flows through the system. The nav touch-screen presents a power-flow diagram, one that will zoom in on a rendering of a part and report on its operating efficiency. Other than the instrument panel, though, it's the same inside as a regular Edge. It provides the same cargo volume as the production crossover, thanks to the minimal running gear: There's the fuel-cell that runs the length of the central tunnel, the battery that sits under the driver's-side floor, a large carbon-fiber hydrogen tank on the other side, two 65Kw drive unit/differentials atop each axle and that's it. Pop the hood and-this being Detroit-don't be surprised to find a vagrant luxuriating in all that empty space.
Okay, last question: Would anyone want to drive this thing? You know, not just because gas suddenly hit $8 a gallon or they were looking to score some hippie poon. Subjectively speaking, it certainly looks cool enough. It rides on carbon-satin 22-inch wheels (which I curb). I also learn that the space shuttle served as the inspiration for the color scheme, hence the pearly white bodywork and matte-grey accents. The entire rear hatch is painted this flat color, and it's hard to resist the urge to run your hand over it.
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