Chevy is Developing a Fuel Cell-Powered Colorado for the Military

Chevy Colorado-based fuel cell military vehicle
Chevy Colorado-based fuel cell military vehicle | GM

We’re not really sure what’s more intriguing: the fact that Chevy is making a truck for the military, or that it’s likely going to be fuel-cell powered. In a press release, General Motors announced that it was working with the U.S. government to develop a specialized vehicle that can “demonstrate the capabilities fuel cell electric propulsion and power generation systems can bring to the military.”

Offering up only the teaser shot shown here, the Detroit automaker says that it will reveal its Chevrolet Colorado-based fuel cell electric vehicle in October at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in Washington, D.C. Working closely with the brightest minds over at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), the vehicle is the result of an agreement between TARDEC and GM dating back to 2015. According to GM’s press release, this collaboration has allowed TARDEC to gain access to “consumer-driven automotive technology for use in military applications,” all while providing the automaker with valuable feedback in return.

Based at the U.S. Army Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan, TARDEC is one of the largest research, development, and engineering centers for the United States military. Simply explained, it is the equivalent of a think tank that focuses on creating advanced military automotive technologies, and is the one responsible for all Defense Department manned and unmanned ground vehicle systems. First conceived back in World War II, TARDEC has long been recognized as a key player in the development and integration of technological solutions, and will more than likely provide GM with plenty of feedback once testing gets underway.

Since GM admits that the Department of Defense has long had a “burning desire to leverage commercial innovation in its next-generation technologies,” the excitement surrounding this project is palpable. Once approved for user assessment in 2017, the Army will utilize the fuel cell-powered vehicle to test things like quieter mobility, exportable power capacities, low-end torque, and water generation capabilities. But the question now is: What does this mean for General Motors and the future of alternative energy?

While neither GM nor TARDEC have released details on the vehicle ahead of its October unveiling, TARDEC Director Paul Rogers did admit that the Army is focusing on these technologies and their capabilities “regardless of the platform.” Being that the Colorado is already a well-designed pickup right out of the box, it only makes sense that the military would take GM’s advice and start on a smaller scale, and test out the vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses once outfitted with fuel cell technology.

“Hydrogen fuel cells as a power source have the potential to bring to the force incredibly valuable capabilities,” says Rogers. “We expect the vehicle to be quiet in operation and ready to provide electricity generation for needs away from the vehicle. With fuel cell technology advancing, it’s an ideal time to investigate its viability in extreme military-use conditions.”

Since fuel cell propulsion offers potent low-end torque capabilities that are useful in off-road environments, both parties involved are curious to see what other perks emerge once testing gets fully underway next year. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of unknowns at play here, and the stakes are quite high for both parties since the ultimate goal is to develop these technologies so that commercial, civilian, and military alike can benefit.

Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Activities, has his own take on what this means for the face of automotive mobility, and his statement highlights the fact that self-driving cars aren’t the only foot race taking place among automakers. “This project is another example of how fuel cell propulsion can play a role in non-traditional applications,” he says. “We need to continue pursuing these opportunities along with our plans for production of a commercial fuel cell system in the 2020 time frame.”