BMW throws weight into hydrogen-powered cars

MUNICH — BMW Group remains a big believer in hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The automaker began a global pilot launch of about 80 of its iX5 hydrogen crossovers earlier this year amid the industry’s flurry of investments and interest in battery-electric vehicles.

BMW dispatched the vehicles to select markets and put them in the hands of target customers. So far, the feedback has been encouraging, said Juergen Guldner, general program manager of hydrogen technology for the company.

“People are saying, ‘This is cool. We wish more people would do this, because batteries alone will not be able to do the job,’ ” he told Automotive News. “There’s too much uncertainty. We need a second technology and this could be it.”

He provided an update on the pilot Monday during IAA Mobility, where BMW debuted a hydrogen concept in 2019.

The biggest revelations related to the hydrogen iX5s came from Germany, California and the Middle East, from which members of the target audiences provided their assessments.

For some, the hydrogen-powered vehicles compared favorably with battery-electric vehicles because the range was stable in both summer and winter, Guldner said. In particular, motorists said they felt more comfortable running the air conditioning on hot days rather than worrying about whether using the air would decrease their battery range.

“That was interesting to hear,” he said.

The vehicles were built at BMW’s Research and Innovation Centre in Munich. The fuel cells are supplied by Toyota Motor Corp. The two companies have partnered on hydrogen-fuel cell developments for the past decade.

The pilot project has been on the company’s long-term hydrogen road map, Guldner said. BMW could put the iX5 hydrogen vehicles into production by the end of the decade, he said.

That would place the automaker among a handful of counterparts that believe hydrogen fuel cells provide a viable option for light-duty passenger vehicles. Early results are underwhelming.

Sales of the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, the only two hydrogen vehicles on the market, have languished compared to battery electrics. Hyundai sold about 400 Nexo fuel-cell crossovers in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Automotive News Research & Data Center, while the Mirai tallied about 2,000.

During the same year, 756,534 battery electrics were registered in the U.S., according to Experian data.

Despite the low light-vehicle volume, Guldner was not the only one touting hydrogen’s potential in passenger cars at IAA. Wan Gang, an early architect of China’s massive electric-car effort, said hydrogen cars could someday be produced in greater number than battery electrics, according to Bloomberg.

Many energy experts say hydrogen’s most promising use in ground transportation will be in long-haul trucking, where quick refueling and high energy density are advantages and heavy batteries a hindrance for battery-electric trucks.

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