Un­leash hy­dro­gen at ’em

There are only 300 places in the world the ZEV H2 can re­fuel, writes KEN GIB­SON in Lon­don

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

FROM the out­side it looks like a nor­mal school-run Re­nault Scenic peo­ple-mover. But the Scenic ZEV H2 hy­dro­gen fuel-cell model could well be the su­per-green and fuel-ef­fi­cient fam­ily car of the fu­ture.

Its best fea­ture is that you can sail past petrol sta­tions and laugh at soar­ing fuel prices, be­cause this Scenic runs on hy­dro­gen and emits just wa­ter into the air.

Re­nault’s en­gi­neers have re­designed the car’s floor and raised the ground clear­ance to fit the fuel cell stacks, the high pres­sure hy­dro­gen tank and the lithium-ion bat­ter­ies with­out com­pro­mis­ing pas­sen­ger com­fort.

In­stead of a fuel gauge you get a much more ex­otic hy­dro­gen pres­sure in­di­ca­tor, while the tem­per­a­ture dis­play shows the fuel’s tem­per­a­ture and the rev counter dis­plays the elec­tric mo­tor rev­o­lu­tions. And it’s re­lax­ing to drive. It’s re­spon­sive, eerily quiet and, with no clutch or gears to worry about, is sim­ple.

The top speed is 160km/h and it has a range of 350km.

Don’t ask me to ex­plain the tech­nol­ogy as it’s like a de­tailed science les­son.

Ba­si­cally it’s fu­elled by the hy­dro­gen stacks that are con­verted into elec­tric­ity.

So re­ally it’s an elec­tric car that never needs re-charg­ing.

So if it’s here now and works so well, why don’t Re­nault of­fer us a hy­dro­gen fuel cell Scenic and save us all from bank­ruptcy at the pumps? Un­for­tu­nately, it’s all about price. While the ma­jor­ity of the car is no more ex­pen­sive to make than to­day’s Scenic, the hy­dro­gen fuel cell costs a small for­tune to man­u­fac­ture.

The pro­to­type cost nearly $2 mil­lion.

The other ma­jor stum­bling block is we don’t have the re­quired net­work of hy­dro­gen fuel pumps to fuel it. There are only 300 fill­ing sta­tions world­wide.

Re­nault and its part­ner Nis­san are work­ing flat out to slash the pro­duc­tion costs dra­mat­i­cally and they ad­mit hy­dro­gen tech­nol­ogy is still very much the fu­ture an­swer to our mo­tor­ing needs.

They be­lieve that bat­tery-pow­ered elec­tric ve­hi­cles are the next pri­or­ity and boss Car­los Ghosn says he ex­pects to have an elec­tric car ready for the US fleet mar­ket by 2010 . . . and at main­stream prices.

Ex­perts say a ma­jor bat­tery break­through is im­mi­nent and it will in­crease the range of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, to­gether with the abil­ity to recharge a bat­tery in as lit­tle as 20 min­utes.

For now Re­nault is push­ing its cur­rent range of low-emis­sion and high fuel econ­omy mod­els, fit­ted with the latest gen­er­a­tion of smaller petrol and diesel en­gines that have the per­for­mance you’d ex­pect in a big car. Re­nault now has 37 cars that fit into the 120g/km C02 emis­sion­sor-un­der cat­e­gory.

I’ve just test driven one of the mod­els, a Re­nault Grand Scenic pow­ered by a 1.5-litre tur­bod­iesel that has sim­i­lar power to the 2.2-litre diesel that it has re­placed.

The small diesel is no slouch with 0-100km/h in 12.4 sec­onds and a top speed of 180km/h.

But the fig­ures that re­ally mat­ter are a com­bined fuel econ­omy of 5.1 litres/ 100km and C02 of 130g/km.

The rest of the Grand Scenic has all the prac­ti­cal­ity we’ve come to ex­pect from Re­nault as past masters of of­fer­ing max­i­mum in­te­rior space for the grow­ing fam­ily, with the op­tion of seven seats.

So, though we can’t hold up two fin­gers to the oil barons and politi­cians just yet, ve­hi­cles like the Grand Scenic do ease the fuel price pain slightly, while the elec­tric and fuel cell ver­sions are get­ting closer. Ken Gib­son writes for The Sun

Gas at­tack: the Re­nault Scenic ZEV H2 is fu­elled by a hy­dro­gen cell and just emits wa­ter. The pro­to­type cost nearly $2 mil­lion.

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