BMW to start hydrogen car tests

Dr. Ian Robertson - BMW to start hydrogen car tests

The German sports and executive car builder has confirmed it’s about to throw its considerable expertise behind hydrogen fuel cell cars but if you’re waiting for a hydrogen-powered 5-Series to go on sale before making the jump to greener motoring, you could be disappointed.

That’s because despite the potential benefits that hydrogen offers — a fuel cell car can be ‘refueled’ at a filling station just like a gas-powered vehicle and the only emission from a hydrogen car is water vapor — this refilling and supply infrastructure is still at an embryonic stage.

In an interview with Autocar, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, said: “The real issues lie not around what we can do, though, but whether the infrastructure can be built up to supply hydrogen in the marketplace cost-effectively.”

BMW isn’t new to hydrogen power, it has tinkered with fuel cells in the past. However, since forming a partnership with Toyota — one of the industry’s biggest advocates of hydrogen fuel cells as the automotive propulsion of the future — it has been able to draw on the Japanese firm’s considerable expertise in the field to co-develop test vehicles that could one day carry the BMW badge. Whether or not they do hit the market, the company is committed to building production test vehicles that will prove the technology really works.

But as well as the unresolved issue surrounding large-scale hydrogen production and supply, BMW is also aware that the technology behind plug-in electric vehicles are continuing with pace and that by the time hydrogen’s kinks have been ironed out, battery technology could already be at the point where range anxiety and long recharging times have become things of the past. A scenario that could arrive within the next 10 years, according to Robertson.

Though BMW is hedging its bets, its partner, Toyota is going all-in on hydrogen power. Its first production fuel cell car, the Mirai, is going on sale in the US and in Japan in 2015 and Honda has also confirmed that it is just 12 months away from launching its own production fuel cell car, a concept version of which debuted at the LA Auto Show in November.