Chevy supports stealthy, off-grid military ops with rugged ZH2 fuel cell truck

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The Chevy Colorado ZH2 is a more extreme, off-road-ready pickup truck(Credit: General Motors)

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After a quick teaser in August, General Motors wasted no time in its October reveal of the all-new Chevy Colorado ZH2, a heavily fortified pickup truck designed for military use. The vehicle has been built up to travel to parts known and unknown, relying on a fuel cell electric powertrain to double as a portable power source. It'll do just that when it starts military testing next year.

The 2014 Colorado ZR2 concept was the toughest Chevy truck we've seen in recent times ... until today. Revealed at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), the Colorado ZH2 takes that title away with ease.

The new truck stands more than 6.5 feet (198 cm) tall thanks to its 37-in BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires and modified off-road suspension system. That compares to the 5.9-foot (180 cm) stature of a standard 2016 Colorado. The new military truck also sits on a stretched midsize pickup chassis and measures more than 7 feet (213 cm) in width, up from the 6.2 feet (189 cm) of the production Colorado.

Within its expanded dimensions, the ZH2 looks well tougher than the typical Colorado or its competition. It has a more 4x4-like profile thanks to high pickup bed walls that angle up into the roofline. The camouflaged hood includes a central bulge and drops into ultra-narrow headlamps flanking a smooth, clean grille design. A large front skid plate finishes off an approach angle sure to make average pickup trucks green with envy. Rugged light surrounds at the bumpers add to the truck's large, unflinching demeanor, as do the big red tow hooks, front winch and roof-mounted off-road lighting.

Chevy hasn't released details on the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, but it makes clear that the fuel cell design is positioned to bring a host of advantages to the military. Key among those is the capability of producing electricity for powering up equipment and tools. An Exportable Power Take-Off (EPTO) unit allows military personnel to take this power off the parked truck and into the field whenever they need.

Beyond that, the fuel cell-driven electric motor powertrain operates much more quietly than a gas engine, acoustically and thermally, an obvious advantage for military operations that demand a low profile. It also creates water as a byproduct, which could be captured and used for other purposes, particularly helpful in dry environments like the desert. The electric motor provides plenty of torque to all four wheels.

GM worked with the US Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in developing the ZH2. The company will finish calibration testing at its Milford Proving Ground before handing the truck over to the Army in early 2017 for a year of field testing.

"Over the next year, we expect to learn from the Army the limits of what a fuel cell propulsion system can do when really put to the test," says Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Activities.

On a semi-related note, the auto press is busy heralding the return of the Ford Bronco today, following a Detroit Free Press article quoting Bill Johnson, plant chairman for UAW Local 900, as saying, "We hate to see the products go to Mexico, but with the Ranger and the Bronco coming to Michigan Assembly that absolutely secures the future for our people a lot more than the Focus does," in response to presidential candidate Donald Trump's criticism of Ford moving jobs out of country.

So how about it GM? The "H2" (Hummer) seems like a hint that you too could be getting back into the serious off-road utility vehicle business, and a gas-powered, ZH2-based production pickup or utility vehicle seems like a natural way to go after the likes of the Bronco and Jeep Wrangler pickup.

Then again, you'll probably just water this one down into the next Trail Boss package.

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