As part of their transition away from fossil fuels, BMW and Audi are building hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicle prototypes alongside their fleets of battery vehicles.
They’re hedging their bets, calculating that a shift in political winds may tip the scales in favor of hydrogen in an industry molded by Tesla’s decision to go the battery-powered route to clean vehicles as an early mover.
BMW is the most enthusiastic supporter of hydrogen among Germany’s automakers, with plans to launch a mass-market vehicle by 2030. In addition, the firm is keeping a watch on changing hydrogen laws in Europe and China, the world’s largest automobile market.
In a project partially sponsored by the German government, the Munich-based premium player has built a hydrogen prototype car based on its X5 SUV.
BMW vice president Jürgen Guldner, who oversees the hydrogen fuel-cell car development, told Reuters that the company plans to establish a test fleet of about 100 cars in 2022.
According to Reuters, Volkswagen’s premium Audi brand has established a team of over 100 mechanics and engineers to investigate hydrogen fuel cells on behalf of the whole Volkswagen group, and has constructed a few prototype cars.
Because batteries are too heavy for long-distance commercial vehicles, hydrogen is seen as a sure bet by the world’s largest truckmakers, including Daimler AG’s Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks, and Hyundai.
However, fuel cell technology, which involves hydrogen passing through a catalyst to generate energy, is still too expensive for mass-market consumer vehicles. Refueling is faster than battery recharging, but infrastructure is more rare. Cells are complicated and contain expensive ingredients, and while refueling is faster than battery recharging, infrastructure is more sparse.
Because hydrogen is so far behind in the race to be inexpensive, even some proponents of the technology, such as Germany’s Greens, choose to prioritize battery-powered passenger vehicles as the quickest method to achieve their core objective of decarbonizing transportation.
The Green Party, on the other hand, supports the use of hydrogen fuel for ships and planes, and wants to invest substantially in “green” hydrogen made entirely from renewable sources.
For years, Japanese automakers Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, as well as Hyundai of South Korea, were the only ones producing and promoting hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, but now they have competition.
China’s hydrogen infrastructure is developing, with many carmakers working on fuel-cell vehicles, including Great Wall Motor, which aims to produce hydrogen-powered SUVs.
More hydrogen fuelling stations for business cars are being planned by the EU.
In his capacity as a member of the Hydrogen Council business group, Herbst said he was convinced that now that governments have established aggressive carbon-reduction objectives, they will promote hydrogen alongside battery electric cars.