Virgin Atlantic Joins Project Driveway, Using Chevrolet Equinox Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles To Transport VIP Passengers
In the current market, the public's perception of greening the environment is key. Virgin Atlantic Airways, Ltd. has jumped into the eco-friendly game with its announcement it will use Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for its "complimentary ground transfer service for upper class passengers" for planes landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
The announcement was made by Virgin Atlantic President Sir Richard Branson and Dr. Lawrence Burns, GM vice president of Research & Development and Strategic planning at a news conference in New York last week.
Already underway, Project Driveway is the world's largest fuel cell vehicle test ever - placing more than 100 zero emissions electric vehicles powered by hydrogen on the streets of key markets in the U.S. and around the world. The Virgin partnership will continue through the duration of the 30-month program.
Later in March, Virgin will place three zero-petroleum, zero-emission Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicles, fueled with hydrogen, into its fleet as ground transportation shuttles, running to and from the airport serving the Los Angeles area. The partnership opens the door to possible future activities between Chevrolet and Virgin, involving the same type of service for New York. In addition, the relationship will help build awareness of environmentally friendly technologies and their sustainability. Actual drivers for the Virgin service will be provided by Music Express Inc. in Burbank, California.
Currently, hydrogen-powered vehicles are not seen as a viable mass transportation option because of their high cost and the extremely limited number of hydrogen fuel stations. This deal will help the Virgin brand reduce its carbon footprint on the ground, which is an important cornerstone of company's environmental strategy. This partnership also provides an excellent top-level evaluation of how the Project Driveway Equinox vehicles can be used in a "best-case-scenario" controlled environment. Keep in mind, the cornerstone to the effectiveness of these Hydrogen Equinoxes is the proximity of a 700-bar-pressure fueling station. Lower level, 350-bar stations are more common, but can only fuel these vehicles to half their capacity. Will Virgin be installing a 700-bar hydrogen station near LAX to fueling this fleet? That detail was not made clear in the press release.
"I'd like to thank Sir Richard, for the opportunity for GM to team with Virgin," said Larry Burns. "Given his strong environmental record and deep commitment to innovation, GM sees this partnership as an important endorsement of our fuel cell and electric vehicle technology, and an important new avenue for demonstrating the new DNA of the automobile."
"Our mission to be the sustainable airline is clear, both on the ground and in the air. Partnerships such as this with General Motors show that we are pioneering in the aviation industry when it comes to reducing emissions at every stage of our passengers' journey," said Sir Richard Branson.
Enabled by GM's fourth-generation hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system, the Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle is a fully functional crossover vehicle. During the Project Driveway test, consumers in suburban Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C. will drive more than 100 of these vehicles for three months and report their experiences to Chevrolet. The drivers have free use of the vehicles -- including the hydrogen fuel it needs to make electricity onboard as well as insurance -- in exchange for their valuable feedback. A small number of the Project Driveway vehicles will also be deployed to other parts of the world, including Germany and Asia.
"This is a great partnership," said Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper. "Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Brand are globally-recognized and this business partnership is an important piece of the Project Driveway program. We will learn a great deal from the Virgin team."
Aside from its dramatically different propulsion system and extra flashy paint scheme, the Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle looks and drives much like the production Chevy Equinox crossover. These special fleet vehicles will also wear additional red Virgin logos and branding to advertise Virgin's complimentary ground transfer service.
The fuel cell system fits within the space of the conventional engine compartment. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which stores energy from the regenerative braking system to increase operating efficiency and boost acceleration when needed, sits under the floor in the middle of the vehicle. Three compressed hydrogen storage tanks, made of carbon fiber for strength and pressurized to 10,000 pounds per square inch (psi), are located under the rear seats and cargo area. They contain roughly nine pounds (4.2 kg) of hydrogen. The Equinox fuel cell has a range of approximately 150 miles when fully fueled.
Outside, the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell electric vehicle fascia sports Chevy's horizontally split grille, along with extra cooling air inlets in the lower front corners. At the rear, the new fascia under the bumper has four thin vertical slits in place of the exhaust pipe; they release the clean water vapor emissions. This patented design lets onlookers know that this is no ordinary internal combustion engine vehicle.
By Brandy Schaffels