BMW holds out with hydrogen. That was repeated by Oliver Zipse, the CEO of BMW, in an interview in Goodwood, England, last week.
“After the electric car, which has been around for about 10 years and is growing fast, the next trend will be hydrogen,” he says. “When it’s more scalable, hydrogen will be the trendiest thing to drive.”
BMW has grappled with the idea of using hydrogen for electricity for years, although it’s obscure and niche compared to the current craze for electrified vehicles. In 2005, BMW built 100 “Hydrogen 7” vehicles that used the fuel to power their V12 engines. The fuel cell concept vehicle iX5 Hydrogen was presented in 2021 at the International Motor Show in Germany.
In August, the company started production of fuel cell systems for a series version of its hydrogen-powered off-road vehicle iX5. Zipse stated that it would be sold in the United States within the next five years, although in a subsequent phone call a spokesman declined to confirm this point. Bloomberg previously reported that BMW will deliver fewer than 100 of the iX5 hydrogen vehicles to select partners in Europe, the US and Asia starting later this year.
All told, BMW will eventually offer five different powertrains to diversify alternative fuel options within the group, Zipse says.
“To say there is only one powertrain in the UK by 2030 or the UK and Europe in 2035 is a dangerous thing,” he says. “From every point of view, this is a dangerous path for customers, for industry, for employment, for the climate.”
Zipse’s hydrogen dreams could even extend to the company’s crown jewel, Rolls-Royce, which BMW has owned since 1998. The “magic carpet ride” driving style that has become a Rolls-Royce trademark is flexible enough to be powered by alternatives to electricity, says Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös.
“To house fuel cell batteries, for example: why not? I wouldn’t rule that out,” Mueller-Ötvös told reporters during a roundtable in Goodwood on the eve of the debut of the company’s first-ever electric vehicle, Specter. “There’s a belief in the group that maybe this is the long-term future.”
Such a vehicle would include a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain combined with BMW’s electric “eDrive” system. It works by converting hydrogen into electricity to achieve an electric output of up to 125 kW/170 hp and a total system output of almost 375 hp, with water vapor being the only emission, the brand says.
The major advantage of hydrogen over electricity, which requires a nationwide and previously non-existent charging network, is the supply of fuel cells stored in carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic tanks. “It will [soon] Markets where you have to drive emission-free but have no access to public charging infrastructure,” says Zipse. “You could argue, well, you don’t have access to the hydrogen infrastructure either, but that’s very simple: It’s a tank that you put in like an old one [gas] Tank, and you charge it every six months or 12 months.”
Fuel cells at BMW would also help reduce reliance on raw materials like lithium and cobalt, as the hydrogen-based system uses recyclable aluminum, steel and platinum components.
Zipse’s continued commitment to prioritizing hydrogen has become an increasing outsider in the automotive world. In the last five years, pure electric vehicles have become the dominant alternative fuel – if not yet on the road, where less than 3% of new cars have plugs, at least at auto shows and new car launches.
Competitors Mercedes-Benz and Audi scrapped their own plans to develop fuel cell vehicles and instead poured tens of billions of dollars into developing all-electric vehicles. Porsche went public to fund its own electric ambitions.
By 2030, BMW will make half of all new car sales electrically, including MINI and Rolls-Royce.