GM’s [GM] new defense unit is looking to meet the Army’s growing interest in automation of its tactical wheeled vehicles and use of fuel cell technology, with a goal to produce 20 electrified vehicles by 2023.

Officials from GM Defense told Defense Daily in an interview last week the company’s experimental Chevrolet Silverado ZH2, built with a next-generation fuel cell system for an Army development program, will be up and running by the fourth quarter of this fiscal year.

Chevrolet Silverado ZH2 concept

“We’ve got something that has a real direct ability to help the defense industry move to the next chapter of technology. Leveraging the resources that we have in the broader General Motors, and being able to apply those, seemed to us the perfect time to get back into the defense game,” Mark Dickens, GM Defense’s chief engineer, told Defense Daily. “We almost spend as much as the entire defense industry combined on research and development. That gives us kind of an upper hand.”

GM revived its defense division in 2018, and officials said the company plans to leverage its extensive development of next-generation batter and hydrogen fuel cell technologies in the commercial for future Army requirements.

Army officials at an NDIA conference earlier this month emphasized the next phase of the service’s tactical wheeled vehicle strategy will focus on acquiring developed, commercial-off-the-shelf battery and electrification capabilities (Defense Daily, Feb. 5).

Matt Scrase, program engineering manager for GM Defense, told Defense Daily, the ZH2 effort and developmental programs to build out fuel cell infrastructure are keys to GM Defense investment required to help the Army reach a goal to integrate autonomy into its tactical wheeled vehicle fleet.

“Electrification is kind of the first step in leading you toward autonomy. You need to have an electric propulsion system, an electric drive and battery solution systems, in order to get towards an autonomous vehicle,” Scrase said. “That momentum to deliver those types of vehicles is currently in process right now in a commercial basis, which allows GM Defense to reach back into the parent company to leverage those resources, technology, IP and hardware. That momentum is significant.”

Scrase said the goal to build out 20 electrified vehicles is intended to drive development of battery technologies, software and advanced fuel cell technologies.

The hydrogen fuel cell-powered Silverado ZH2 is a development program with TARDEC, now called the Combat Capabilities Development Command – Ground Vehicle System Center (CCDC GVSC), which builds off an initial fuel cell effort called the Colorado ZH2.

“That is a contract we have with them where we’re currently developing a Silverado ZH2 vehicle to demonstrate both a high level of off-road capability combined with our latest generation fuel cell technology,” Scrase said. “The fuel cell has evolved to address the range and efficiency. And the additional payload and off-road capacity was accomplished through an all new frame, suspension, architecture in a full-sized pickup truck.”

GM Defense and CCDC GVSC are working to have the Silverado ZH2 running in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, with the goal of then working to address the challenge of how hydrogen will be delivered to soldiers using these vehicles in theater.

The company is also working on the Silent Utility Rover Universal Super Structure program with the Army to test fuel cell and autonomous technology for cargo vehicles.

“That program was a demonstrator concept to show that the capability of what a fuel cell can provide in that type of configuration, which is more of a cargo transport vehicle,” Scrase said. “That vehicle also demonstrates the leader-follower technology that we’re developing as part of our autonomous capabilities.”