LOS ANGELES — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has introduced an environmentally friendly hydrogen Hummer — just not one built from his personal collection as he'd promised voters when he campaigned for office.
Criticized by environmentalists for owning a gas-guzzler, Schwarzenegger said during last year’s campaign that he would convert the internal combustion engine of one of his Hummers to run on hydrogen.
Though he hasn’t done that, the governor did introduce an alternative Friday — a hydrogen-powered Hummer custom-built by General Motors.
The governor drove the Hummer H2H to a new hydrogen fueling spot at Los Angeles International Airport to tout his $100 million plan for a “hydrogen highway” of such stations.
"I promised I would turn one of my Hummers into a hydrogen Hummer. Today I drove one of those," the governor said.
GM steps up
However, under questioning by reporters, Schwarzenegger clarified that the Hummer wasn't his.
"I wanted to turn one of my Hummers into a hydrogen-fueled car," he said. "But then, General Motors was so inspired that they said, 'Wait a minute — why don't you let us build one? Let us build a prototype.'"
GM said it began developing the H2H in late spring. The company wanted to develop a new vehicle instead of retrofitting an old one because it wanted its work to have long-term, practical applications, spokesman David Caldwell said.
The company said it is lending the hydrogen Hummer to California to help raise awareness about the technology. Hydrogen can be used to run vehicles either via an internal combustion engine or even more efficiently through a fuel cell, which uses hydrogen and air to create electricity.
Since the election, Schwarzenegger has reduced his fleet from seven Hummers to three, and he rarely drives any of them, spokeswoman Terri Carbaugh said.
"My Hummers are now in the garage, because I get driven by the CHP all the time," the governor said, referring to his California Highway Patrol chauffeur and guard.
Schwarzenegger was the first person to buy a Hummer, a civilian version of the military vehicle that caught the public’s attention during the Gulf War. GM estimates the latest version of the vehicle, the 6,400-pound H2, gets 10 to 13 miles per gallon. Dealers put the figure at 8 to 10 mpg.
Potential and obstacles
In April, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order calling for the construction of 200 stations offering hydrogen fuel up and down the state within six years. The program is expected to cost $100 million.
But Friday's event betrayed the current limitations of hydrogen power even as it celebrated the technology's progress.
Though Schwarzenegger arrived in the low-pollution vehicle, he left in a gasoline-powered SUV that typically gets about 15 miles per gallon. It was a pragmatic decision, given that the hydrogen Hummer needs to refuel every 50 miles and there are only about a dozen fueling stations across the state.
And while Schwarzenegger said the LAX station would be the first designed for use by the general public rather than government vehicles, the station builder conceded it wouldn't be open to the average driver for at least five to 10 years.
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