If you watched the Olympics in Beijing, you may have noticed Volkswagen Passats being used as pace cars for some of the running and cycling competitions. More than just product placement, these Passats demonstrated a hydrogen fuel cell power train built by Volkswagen at its China research laboratory. The car is called the Volkswagen Passat Ling Yu hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and we got a chance to drive it here in California.
Volkswagen brought a number of these cars to the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CFCP), a unique organization that works with major automakers such as Honda, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and Volkswagen on fuel cell research. CFCP also promotes research into hydrogen generation and filling stations.
So, on a hot Sacramento day, we took the wheel of a car that just might be the future of automotive transportation. As the car is built on the Passat platform, it doesn't exactly look like the car of the future. The controls and ergonomics are all very familiar. But a kilowatt gauge takes the place of a tachometer on the instrument cluster.
Although driven by an electric motor, which doesn't make much sound in itself, the car produced a steady whining sound. Not unpleasant, but certainly noticeable, it came from the compressor used to push hydrogen into the fuel cell. The power-train packaging is similar to that of a gas-engine car, with the fuel cell stack, compressor, and control software under the hood, and hydrogen tanks at the rear axle. The car also has a lithium ion battery in the middle of the chassis, which provides electricity storage for the regenerative brakes and supplements the flow to the motor. … Read more