Just when you thought alternative fuel options were boring and belonged on tiny autonomous cars out in California, along comes General Motors with a badass pickup the likes of which will make any hardcore off-road enthusiast drool. While word that the Detroit-based giant would be unveiling a military-spec light truck grabbed our attention earlier this year, the final concept design shines a light on the shadowy silhouette, illuminating a 4×4 pickup of the future.
Unveiled on October 3 at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 is an embodiment of what the automaker calls “the most extreme off-road-capable fuel-cell-powered electric vehicle ever developed by the brand.” Measuring in at over 6.5 feet tall and more than 7 feet wide, the ZH2 bears little resemblance to the Duramax diesel Colorado that you can buy, as the military grade version takes the already capable chassis and stretches it to the extreme.
The concept has been built to represent what the future of military engineering looks like both inside and out, and with its jutting fender flares, oversized air ducts, integrated LED light bar, and forceful front end, there’s no denying the fact that this is one badass automobile. Swaddled in 37-inch BF Goodrich rubber, and lifted atop a specially tuned suspension setup with extra thick skid plates beneath, the ZH2 looks ready to hunt down Raptors and enemies of the state alike, as GM tries to recoup after losing its Humvee contract last year.
But while the Detroit automaker did lose the ability to provide Hummers to the military in favor of a light pickup, it has also been busy accumulating 3.1 million miles of hydrogen fuel cell testing on America’s roadways. Code-named “Project Driveway,” this fleet of 119 vehicles have already been driven by more than 5,000 civilians during a multi-year testing program, serving as a success story from which the automaker may someday capitalize upon.
Nevertheless, tooling around the suburbs while blaring Bon Jovi’s greatest hits, and hauling ass over rocky Taliban terrain are two totally different things. In order to make sure the ZH2 chassis and its unorthodox drivetrain are both up to snuff, the Army says it will begin testing the Colorado in “extreme field conditions” next year to determine whether hydrogen-powered vehicles are ideal for military missions or not. The Army will also be testing the ZH2’s Exportable Power Take-Off unit (EPTO), which basically transforms the fuel cell into a massive battery pack for use in remote locations or in developing countries where electricity is limited.
Developed from contract to concept in less than a year, the Colorado ZH2 project is not just a GM creation either, but a partial brainchild of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC). Long considered the mad scientist division of the U.S. military, TARDEC has served a crucial role in aiding GM’s push toward alternative fuel sources and technologies.
The Colorado ZH2 contract marks one of two vehicle developments it has this year with a U.S. military branch. This past June, the U.S. Navy unveiled a fuel cell-powered Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) that also sports a GM powerplant, and is reportedly in the pool testing phase as we speak in order to reach a rapidly approaching deployment date.
“The speed with which innovative ideas can be demonstrated and assessed is why relationships with industry are so important to the Army,” says Paul Rogers, director of TARDEC. “Fuel cells have the potential to expand the capabilities of Army vehicles significantly through quiet operation, exportable power and solid torque performance, all advances that drove us to investigate this technology further.”
Located in southeast Michigan, both the fuel cell development laboratories and the vehicle’s assembly point at GM’s Advanced Vehicle Integration facility in Warren have been abuzz in preparation for the big reveal. Thus far, the automaker admits that while calibration testing at the Milford Proving Ground will continue into early 2017, it’s the year of field abuse that the Army will subject the pickup to that will prove what works and what doesn’t on both the chassis and the drivetrain.
The Army will reportedly evaluate the ZH2 fuel cell for:
- Near-silent operation enabling silent watch capability
- Reduced acoustic and thermal signatures
- High wheel torque at all speeds via electric drive
- Low fuel consumption across operating range
- Water by-product for field uses
“The Colorado ZH2 is a terrific example of GM’s engineering and design skill in creating an off-road vehicle relevant to a range of potential users,” says Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities. “Over the next year, we expect to learn from the Army the limits of what a fuel cell propulsion system can do when really put to the test.”