Move over Jeeps and Hummers. The Army has turned to the Motor Trend Truck of the Year for its latest fighting machine. To create the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, General Motors is working directly with the US Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).
The Chevy Colorado reemerged last year as an updated, tech-smart mid-sized truck. Its excellent blend of class-leading fuel economy and class-leading performance saw many old trucks sent off for auto recycling. Truck enthusiasts and tradesmen alike want a piece of this smart package. The Colorado earned both the 2015 and 2016 Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award, a rare feat to score once much less twice in a row.
A military concept vehicle, the Colorado ZH2 bears only a resemblance to its popular civilian counterpart. Whereas the regular Colorado offers a four-cylinder, six-cylinder, and diesel turbo, the ZH2 is an electric vehicle with a cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell. It will be used to study advanced powertrain technology for combat vehicles. Even the sheetmetal is radically different. No doubt, the military needs armored protection that the average truck driver doesn’t.
Never before have the military had so many options to balance the needs of the mission with the needs of the environment. After all, with hydrogen technology, the only emission is water. Engineers are moving to capture this with an on-board water generator and other technology since water may be scarce in areas where the military vehicle may operate.
Furthermore, from a tactical standpoint, EVs offer several things that regular gas or diesel motors definitely don’t. First, EVs are quiet, making it easier to travel undetected when necessary. Second, there’s not even much of a thermal signature, reducing the ability of the enemy to detect the vehicle, to determine its location, or to track its progress. The hydrogen fuel cell also frees military missions from the fuel pump.
Of course, the military’s priority must be capability, and electric motors are coming closer to meeting this goal all of the time. The challenge for TARDEC and GM is to turn the current civilian advantages into effective futuristic military tools. Suffice it to say, the vehicle must have high torque and horsepower to be viable. A high torque output at all speeds is the only information that GM has revealed about the vehicle’s performance.
Adding to its tactical and humanitarian capabilities, GM has given the ZH2 an exportable power take-off unit. This 25-kilowatt battery-operated system is detachable and rechargeable. The military can use this for tactical or humanitarian activities away from the truck.
Of course, the real fun for military buffs and driving enthusiasts is the look of this military concept truck. Imposing at six feet, five inches tall, it stretches over seven-feet wide. The front has that menacing look you’d expect from a military ride. Currently covered by a traditional green woodlands camouflage paint job, that could change to the sand-and-rock camouflage favored for desert missions.
Of course, the truck must be ready for rough terrain. So there are also meaty 37-inch tires you’ll never see on the regular Colorado. The specially modified suspension allows for much better wheel travel, a must for off-road use. GM already has magnetic suspension control that can read the road in milliseconds, changing with each bump in the road. The trick will be converting that to military purposes.
Perhaps the big surprise for civilians comes when they climb inside. It doesn’t really look so different from the mainstream Colorados. Chevy MyLink adds a touchscreen and streaming audio. The Recaro seats are the must-have kind you’ll find in Colorados and sports cars alike. Simpson racing harnesses remind the onlooker that this truck has serious business to attend to. Yet overall the look is much as you can see at a Chevy dealer’s lot.
The ZH2 really is as much as a rolling testbed as it is a prototype military concept vehicle. After all, hydrogen fuel cell technology may be cutting edge, but it isn’t proven yet for military use. GM testing will continue at Milford Proving Grounds. Then TARDEC will take the trucks for Army field testing in extreme conditions.