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1998 - DaimlerChrysler Unveils Methanol Or H2 Fuel Cell Electric 4x4 Jeep Commander Concept - 1998!

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1999 Jeep Commander Fuel Cell Concept First Electric 4x4 1999 Jeep Commander Concept Image credit: ©

SEE ALSO Fuel Cell Content Archive 1995-Present

Originally Published December 28, 1998

Jeep(R) Concept Commands Respect in All Environments

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 29, 1998; The latest Jeep concept's commanding presence will strike a strong chord with Jeep loyalists while making minimal impact on the environment.

"The Commander is a sophisticated, upscale sport-utility vehicle," said Trevor Creed, Vice President, Advanced Design and Exterior Jeep(R)/Truck, Interior Design, Color and Trim. "But from any angle, no one could mistake it for anything but a Jeep.

"This concept marries the industry's most advanced powertrain with one of the fastest growing market segments," Creed added. "With fuel cell technology under the hood, this vehicle takes Jeep's pledge to 'Tread Lightly!' on the environment very seriously."

Jeep designers predict that drivers will feel in command on the road, as well as off the beaten path. The sills of the silver-bodied Commander are approximately two inches lower than a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, the suspension can raise up four inches for off-road adventures, similar to last year's Jeepster concept. Overall height of 69.4 inches is equivalent to the Grand Cherokee. The fact that the Commander stands 80 inches wide overall, more than seven inches wider than Grand Cherokee, helps reinforce drivers' sense of security.

"Typically, high fuel economy concepts are mid-sized or smaller cars," said Bernard Robertson, Senior Vice President-Engineering Technologies and General Manager-Truck Operations. "But we asked, 'Why not put the fuel cell in a larger vehicle that could really use a boost in fuel economy?'" Jeep engineers believe the Commander is the world's only four-wheel-drive vehicle that runs on electric power. The Commander borrows two EPIC minivan electric motors, one for each axle, that provide full-time, four-wheel-drive. For now, the Commander runs only on electric power as all technical challenges to turn gasoline into electricity onboard a vehicle have yet to be solved (see "Jeep Commander Provides Status Report on Emerging Fuel Cell Technology" for more information).

One of the ways Jeep designers helped compensate for the extra weight and cost of the on-board fuel refinery (as they nicknamed the powertrain) was to design the body with injection molded plastic. The concept was built in carbon fiber to simulate the weight savings that could be achieved with injection molded plastic. Shown in several concept vehicles created by the former Chrysler Corp., the plastic technology saves up to 50 percent body weight, 10 to 50 percent in manufacturing costs and is nearly 100 percent recyclable. The molded-in-color plastic also allows designers to create shapes not permitted with stamped metal, shapes such as the crisp lines that give the Commander its high-tech, machined surface appearance. The Commander's curb weight of 5,000 pounds is comparable to full-size sport- utility vehicles, despite the 2,100 pound fuel cell powertrain-about 1,000 pounds heavier than a typical sport-utility powertrain.

But how do you make a Jeep vehicle aerodynamic?

The Jeep design team developed several unique features to improve aerodynamics. A special heat exchanging cowl panel does double duty. First, it helps lower drag by improving wind flow over the windshield. Second, it draws hot air out from under the hood and aids the radiator in keeping the fuel cell system cool. At highway speeds, a rear spoiler deploys from the roof, similar to the 1998 Dodge Intrepid ESX2 concept. An "on-demand" roof rack can be activated when needed for luggage, although its normal position makes it flush with the roof. An underbelly pan smoothes the air flow under the vehicle.

Although the Commander is not nearly as sleek as a jet plane, the exterior designer, Steve Won, was still able to borrow some design cues.

"Commander has a very machined, high-tech feel," Won said. "One of the details to reinforce that image was to recreate a jet engine's intake and exhaust appearance within the head lamps and tail lights."

"Bauhaus design philosophy led me to the very clean, precise and mechanical appearance," Won explained. "It still has true Jeep character, down to the traditional seven slot grille, but it is also ultra-modern and sophisticated."

As with any Jeep, function is as important as form. The tow hitch cover folds down and doubles as a step for ease in reaching the roof. Side view mirrors have wipers and 180 degree convex mirrors to eliminate blind spots.

Function is not limited to the exterior of Commander. A small laptop computer, three-quarter inches thick, and no bigger than a notebook, can dock into the center console and provide global positioning system (GPS) data and Internet access for real-time weather, traffic, and directions, as well as phone, e-mail and vehicle diagnostic information. The laptop is connected to the liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, which is integrated into the instrument panel and displays high-quality color images. A small microphone is embedded into the steering column to receive voice commands that are translated into data.

Electronics Specialist, Steve Buckley explains, "When you're driving home and remember something you should have done at work, you can verbally remind yourself and tell your computer to e-mail that message to your office-all without touching a keypad."

Another unique feature is the tiny camera located within the instrument panel that provides added security. If someone steals the vehicle, the camera is positioned to take a picture of the driver, which is electronically sent to the authorities.

Instrument panel gauges literally come to life-they light up to a bright blue when the ignition is turned on. Interior Designer Mike Nicholas likens the electroluminescent bright blue graphics to the face of a Swiss chronometer watch. When the ignition is off, the dark, blank gauges are more reminiscent of an elegant Movado watch.

Although the instrument panel is actually modified from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, most Grand Cherokee owners would not recognize it due to the added materials and colors. The instrument panel is detailed with chrome and a brushed aluminum surface similar to the 1998 Plymouth Pronto Spyder concept car. Select use of light burl wood on the steering wheel and instrument panel also accent the interior. Navy blue is the primary color of the interior and seats with contrasting cognac leather trim inserts.

The extreme width of the vehicle makes it possible to provide extra storage space in the center console, as well as three comfortable bucket seats in the rear. Other storage compartments are located behind the front seats and in the side of the rear cargo area.

Jeep Commander Provides Status Report on Emerging Fuel Cell Technology

Only an idea existed two years ago when the former Chrysler Corporation proposed that gasoline could be turned into electric energy with a fuel cell.

That idea has taken shape in the Jeep Commander concept vehicle, yet the technology still needs significant development before it is proven to be feasible. The Jeep Commander concept vehicle was debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show and, as promised, provides a status report on efforts to develop that technology.

"The experiment was a success in terms of the knowledge gained, even if all the technical challenges to turn gasoline into electricity have not been solved," said Bernard Robertson, Senior Vice President-Engineering Technologies and General Manager-Truck Operations. "We are excited about the possibilities."

The Jeep Commander runs on electric power, but the fuel cell "powertrain" is not functional. DaimlerChrysler plans to have a working methanol, hybrid fuel cell system in the Commander by the end of 1999.

Fuel cells create their own electricity. Oxygen from the air and hydrogen fuel are combined in a chemical reaction that produces electricity and water. Overall vehicle efficiency has the potential to be improved by 50 percent and emissions can range from zero to just 10 percent of today's vehicles.

The question is, "Where does the vehicle get hydrogen fuel?" While pure hydrogen is the ideal fuel in terms of fuel cell system efficiency, ease of operation and the complete elimination of emissions, hydrogen fuel cannot be found at the corner filling station. Hence, fuel cell researchers looked into ways to extract hydrogen from the most commonly available transportation fuel -- gasoline.

"We knew we were taking the most difficult path when we chose to pursue gasoline reformation and we did prove that part true," Robertson added. "Through that process, we're more certain that methanol will be the best fuel to power fuel cells when they are introduced into the marketplace around 2004."

Although methanol cannot readily be found at filling stations, in the future it could be delivered through the existing fuel infrastructure. Reforming methanol is simpler than gasoline and produces even lower emissions than a gasoline powered fuel cell.

"We're not completely abandoning the research to reform gasoline into hydrogen, but it will take a back seat," Robertson explained. DBB Fuel Cell Engines, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, Ballard and Ford Motor Co., will continue its research with Shell Oil Co. to develop the technology. The contract between Delphi Automotive and the former Chrysler Corp. to develop the identical technology was completed as scheduled on December 15, 1998.

The Jeep Commander's next technology step will be integrating fuel cell hardware from the Necar 3, the world's first methanol powered, passenger-car sized fuel cell vehicle. The Jeep's new powertrain, to be developed later in 1999, will include supplemental battery power to improve performance and system warm up times.

"DaimlerChrysler's combined expertise and resources allows us to look at the broadest array of fuel cell technology," Robertson said. "Synergies like this give us a competitive advantage and maximum flexibility to respond to the rapid changes in the industry."

Combined Strength of DaimlerChrysler Pushes Fuel Cell Race Forward

The race to develop fuel cell technology gathers speed with the teaming of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz researchers.

"DaimlerChrysler is well positioned to lead fuel cell development in the automotive industry, as well as respond to any changes in the marketplace," said Bernard Robertson, Senior Vice President-Engineering Technologies and General Manager-Truck Operations. "No other auto company is covering the waterfront in fuel cell technology options-hydrogen, methanol, gasoline and flexible fuel systems. The fuel cell could either directly power the car or be combined with supplemental battery power.

"With two forward-thinking companies merged into one, we're able to put a lot of brain power into one room. The combination of their extensive research and technology base and our speed to market creates a formidable technology player in the global automotive business."

DaimlerChrysler may have the industry's most comprehensive fuel cell development program. The Company's base of fuel cell technology includes:

* Systems that use hydrogen to power fuel cells directly. Pure hydrogen is the ideal fuel in terms of system efficiency and simplicity, not to mention the fact that water is the only emission. However, storing liquid hydrogen on board the vehicle requires heavy and expensive tanks. Plus, an infrastructure for hydrogen refueling is virtually nonexistent.

* Vehicles that run on methanol, which may be the most practical fuel in the near term. Methanol can be reformed on-board into hydrogen without the very large and bulky storage tanks needed for pure hydrogen. Methanol produces no carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen (NOx) or particulate emissions, although it does emit trace amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). This technology was demonstrated last year in the Necar 3, a modified Mercedes A- class.

* Fuel cell systems that derive hydrogen from gasoline and other commonly available fuels. The Jeep Commander represents a status report on gasoline conversion, which has proven more difficult than originally conceived when the former Chrysler Corporation announced its plans two years ago to develop the technology. The complete gasoline-to-electricity process has not yet been proven in a vehicle. Although methanol conversion is the most promising approach in the near term, development continues with the gasoline conversion process.

Fuel Cell Vehicles vs. Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicles

While cost and weight issues still exist for batteries, they can be used to optimize a fuel cell powertrain by adding power and storing energy that is normally lost during braking. Batteries can also help improve fuel efficiency.

When the Jeep Commander integrates Necar 3 fuel cell hardware later in 1999, a battery will be added to improve acceleration and response as well as to begin developing a control strategy for hybrid fuel cell powertrains.

DaimlerChrysler is exploring fuel cells with and without batteries. If continued development allows a fuel cell system to warm up and be operational within one to two minutes, it would make sense to use a small battery. The battery would provide energy to warm the system as well as to propel the vehicle for the initial two minutes.

If fuel cell warm up times are reduced to less than one minute, it would make sense to use a direct fuel approach, as that would decrease system complexity and weight. This is similar to the approach of the methanol- powered Necar 3.