Abstract Onboard hydrogen generation using compact plasmatron devices could provide important new possibilities for reducing pollution from motor vehicles, making use of alternative fuels, and increasing engine efficiency. These improvements would involve the use of the plasmatron as a very small, rugged, rapid response and highly flexible means of electrical heating of gases. Plasmatron heating could be used to facilitate conversion of a wide range of hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen-rich gas onboard a vehicle. Use of combinations of fuels is possible through potential transformation of a variety of fuels into hydrogen-rich gas. Another advantage of use of onboard plasmatron generation of hydrogen is that it could be used only when required and could be readily turned on and off. Preliminary experimental studies of plasmatron conversion of difficult-to-use alternative fuels (biofuels), iso-octane (representative of gasoline), and diesel fuel are described. Concepts for application to trucks and other heavy duty vehicles, sport utility vehicles and automobiles are discussed.