General Motors Co. is moving its fuel-cell development headquarters from upstate New York to the company’s engine research and development center in Pontiac, Michigan which is responsible for integrating new technology into the automaker’s products.
GM has been one of many makers exploring applications of hydrogen-powered fuel cells which some believe could provide a true zero-emissions alternative to both conventional gasoline engines and limited-range electric vehicles
GM spokeswoman Kimberly Carpenter confirmed GM plans to move 220 salaried engineers and other staff to Michigan by the end of the first quarter of 2013. Virtually all of the employees assigned to the GM fuel cell research center in Honeoye, N.Y. near Rochester, N.Y. are being offered jobs in Pontiac, she said.
The employees will move into the GM Powertrain complex on Joslyn on Pontiac’s northside. The complex houses approximately 3,000 employees tasked with designing, developing and testing powertrains using conventional internal combustion engines as well as hybrid and electric propulsion.
GM already does some work on fuel cell development in Pontiac, Carpenter said. “We are consolidating all of our fuel cell work in one place,” she said.
(Is hydrogen power making a comeback? Click Here for that report.)
Fuel cells, which use hydrogen as a feed stock, force the gas into a device called a fuel cell stack to produce electricity which can be used to power a vehicle’s electric motors. Automakers hope at some point in the future fuel cells could reduce the nation’s dependence on petroleum.
The maker once hoped to have its first commercial fuel cell products on the market by now. But despite running in several fleet tests, Carpenter said GM hasn’t disclosed any kind of timetable for building a practical fuel cell vehicle.
GM has been bringing more of its research and development work to Michigan and it continues to streamline and consolidate more of its product engineering and development.
Last spring, GM announced it was shutting down its research center in Bangalore, India and restructuring its research staff.
In another move shifting more automotive work to southeast Michigan, the Vehicle Production Group, a startup automaker building wheelchair accessible vans, has shifted its headquarters to the Detroit region from south Florida.
VPG relocated to a building in the Detroit suburb of Allen Park where the company’s engineering staff was already based. VPG launched with the help of a $50 million loan from the U.S. government in 2011. The factory-built, wheelchair-accessible vehicle runs on compressed natural gas or gasoline. AM General has already begun building the VPG at its plant in Mishawaka, Indiana.
The Detroit area has been gaining significant business since the auto industry began its slow economic recovery in 2009. In particular, the region has seen a significant bump up in engineering-related work, both by established automakers and suppliers and those new to the region. Among the latest to set up an operation in the region is SAIC, the Shanghai-based automotive partner to General Motors, which recently established offices in the tony Detroit suburb of Birmingham.
(China’s largest automaker opens Detroit office. Click Herefor the full story.)