2002 GM Hy-wire Concept
An attempt to reinvent the automobile
Having not given it much thought, I’d always associated it with the word “haywire” which isn’t really a good thing for a company’s technological showpiece. Some may have associated it with a high-wire act, which could be a positive thing since such a feat requires a high degree of skill. However, both associations are way off the mark.
In actuality, the fitting name was coined by a 14-year old boy.
A world’s first
In September of 2002, at the Paris Motor Show, General Motors unveiled Hy-wire, a five-seat luxury sedan, as GM describes it. It also happens to be the world’s first drivable vehicle that combines a hydrogen fuel cell with by-wire technology; hence the abbreviated name. (“Hy” = hydrogen, and “wire” = by-wire.)
While combining those two elements may seem like a bit of a stretch in order to garner a “world’s first” title, there is a significance to their attributes and use on this concept.
First off, for those not familiar with hydrogen fuel cells or by-wire technology, I’ll take a moment to explain.
A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from certain fuels into electricity by way of a chemical reaction with oxygen or other oxidizing agent. While various fuels can be used in a fuel cell, hydrogen is the most common. Besides producing electricity, fuel cell byproducts include water and heat, along with minute quantities of other emissions. Therein lies the appeal.
By-wire technology replaces mechanical linkages, such as cables or hydraulic lines, with electronic connections. In essence, there is no direct physical link between a by-wire control and that which it is controlling.
So how and why do the two technologies combine in Hy-wire to be of any significance?
The image to the left shows what GM terms a skateboard chassis. This 11-inch thick chassis rides underneath Hy-wire and contains all of the mechanical and electronic bits that make the vehicle move.
Therefore, without an engine compartment, the full length of the vehicle can be used to house passengers and their belongings.
Talk about a commanding view. The windshield reaches all the way down to the car’s bumper with only a slim bar, which houses defroster outlets, bisecting the expanse. Apart from that, the driver has merely a single module, called the driver control unit, to see over.
This is where the by-wire technology comes into play. Since there is no steering column and no pedals on the floor, the driver control unit can be slid to either side of the vehicle allowing for both left- and right-hand drive capability, as seen to the right.
Also evident in this picture is the forward view afforded the front passengers. The rear of the vehicle is also fitted with low-slung glass.
As mentioned above, there are no pedals to push for throttle or braking. Instead, there are the electronic, by-wire controls on hand grips that replace a traditional steering wheel.
The driver can twist either the left or right hand grip to accelerate. To slow, the driver squeezes a brake actuator also located on the hand grips. Since the grips aren’t fixed to a column, they “glide up and down.”
At the center of the driver control module, between the hand grips, is a 5.8-inch color monitor that provides the driver with important information. The driver control unit attaches to a center console which provides a second 5.8-inch color monitor for radio and heating/ventilation/air conditioning controls, and the navigation system.
Hy-wire includes accommodations for five, each granted a bucket seat. When not needed, the rear center seat folds flat to be used as a table. More clearly seen in the gallery-sized photo are the open seat backs which were designed to contribute to the interior’s airy feel.