Cars of the Future, Coming to a Driveway Near You

Future carsGetty Images/AP Photos
Future cars

When New Yorker Jeanine Getz hops in her car in the morning, turns the key and rolls onto the street, everything seems completely normal -- except Getz isn't using even a drop of gasoline.

That's because Getz was preselected as one of more than 100 Americans to test-drive one of Chevrolet's most ambitious automobiles yet, the hydrogen-fueled Equinox.

By now, most major car companies have their own version of fuel-efficient technology.

German carmaker BMW has already put a fleet of hydrogen powered cars on the road, loaning them to celebrities and politicians in the U.S. and Europe, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, the company said.

In addition to the Equinox, General Motors is due to release the much-hyped electric battery powered Chevy Volt next year. Nissan and Honda are planning similar moves with the Nissan Leaf and Honda's Civic Hybrid.

But unlike those cars that need at least some gasoline, the Equinox needs none.

"We put hydrogen in the tank and it moves through this device called a fuel cell. You bring in oxygen [and] the chemical reaction gives you water, which is the only thing that comes out the tail pipe, and you get electricity to power the car down the road," driver relationship manager for GM's Stephen Martin told "Good Morning America."

Click here for a more detailed explanation of fuel cell technology.

While the reaction may sound complicated, Getz said it looks and drives like a normal car.

"I was impressed with the fact that I could just get in, turn the key and call it a day," she said.

Alternative Fuel 'Crucial' for Survival

For cash-strapped general motors, this car could be a key to survival and weaning itself from oil dependence.

"The manufacturers don't have a choice because Washington is forcing them to do this because of the new fuel economy standards that are rolling out with model year 2011 which is just next year," Rebecca Lindland, auto analyst for Global Insight said.

The Equinox gets an equivalent of about 50 miles to the gallon, and the hydrogen fueling process is similar to the normal gas station fill up -- even the dispensers are designed to resemble gas station nozzles.

Hydrogen-powered cars do have one major obstacle to overcome, however, as hydrogen-fueling stations are few and far between relative to the near endless sea of gas stations.

"That's the big and very important part of the puzzle, so right now it's a little bit of 'we develop enough cars to get on the road to support those stations really being in operation, and more stations get built to support even more cars going on the road,'" Marlin said.

The hydrogen must also be stored at supercooled temperatures of 423 degrees below zero, experts say, adding to the cost and enlarging the size of the carbon footprint operating a hydrogen car would take.

Regardless, Getz's five-year-old daughter says she's sold.

"She loves it. She'll say 'let's take the hydrogen car,'" Getz said. "She will stand there and go 'ah, it smells like nothing.'"