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GM takes step toward fuel-cell car

Reports: GM aims for 2010 production as it shifts 500 engineers from advanced development labs to core production engineering division.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors is shifting about 500 engineers within the company with the aim of having the first fuel-cell-powered car on the market as soon as 2010, according to published reports.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press both reported Friday that GM is moving the engineers -- who have been working on the fuel-cell technology in the company's advanced development laboratories division -- to the company's core production engineering division, which designs vehicles to be brought into production.

"We don't build cars in research labs," Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research, development and strategic planning, told the Free Press. "This is another important milestone as we move fuel-cell vehicles closer to future production.

"This says, 'Not only have we done it in a lab, we're ready to do it for real,'" he told the News. "We have worked on this fuel-cell technology long enough and hard enough to be able to start to move this into production."

GM did not give a date that the fuel-cell might be available for market, but the Free Press said that 2010 is a best case scenario.

"There's no doubt that any time you move a significant technology from the R&D realm towards full production, it signals that that technology could be on the market in three to four years," Michael Robinet, president of vehicle forecasting on CSM Worldwide, told the Free Press. "But I think GM is smartly saying the Volt will be ready when it's ready, rather than setting a date."

The Free Press reports that GM made a similar shift of engineering staff that was working on development of gas-electric hybrid technology in 2003. This year, four years later, it is bringing its first hybrid vehicles to market.

GM has trailed competitors such as Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and even Detroit rival Ford Motor, in offering hybrid vehicles to the market. No automaker has yet to offer a fuel-cell-powered car for sale to customers, although Honda has said it plans to lease a number of the fuel-cell cars to customers as soon as 2008.

Fuel cells have been around for decades. They powered spacecraft in the 1960's. And they are an exceptionally clean power source, producing only water vapor as waste. There has been production commercial vehicles, such as buses, powered by fuel cells. But so far most fuel-cell vehicles have been concept vehicles, with only a few cars are on the road, often at a cost of $1 million or more each for the automaker.

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