It might come as a surprise, but BMW started hydrogen research back in 1978. However, it wasn't until 2000 that the E38 750hL arrived. A fleet of 15 cars was presented in Berlin with a V12 engine capable of running on petrol and hydrogen. The vehicles were used as shuttles during the Expo 2000 in Hannover. The Hydrogen 7 followed in 2006 during the E68's life cycle – once again with a V12 - and was put into production, albeit in small numbers.
Fast forward to 2022, BMW has started in-house fuel cell production of the iX5 Hydrogen and plans to build a limited series of the hydrogen-fuelled SUV. Sadly, there's no V12 around this time. Why is the Munich-based automaker insisting this technology has a future? Well, it'll apparently become trendy after the battery-powered EV craze dies down in an unspecified amount of time. At least that's what the company's chairman Oliver Zipse believes will happen.
BMW iX5 Hydrogen in winter testing
In an interview with Bloomberg, BMW's head honcho said: "After the electric car, which has been going on for about 10 years and scaling up rapidly, the next trend will be hydrogen. When it's more scalable, hydrogen will be the hippest thing to drive." He went on to say that having only one powertrain – namely battery-powered EVs – available in Europe in 2035 would be a dangerous thing:
"For the customers, for the industry, for employment, for the climate, from every angle you look at, that is a dangerous path to go to.”
BMW is not all alone in the hydrogen boat as Toyota also believes there is a future for fuel cell vehicles. In fact, the two automakers are collaborating on FCVs and will begin mass production as early as 2025. Earlier this year, BMW sales chief Pieter Nota told Asia Nikkei the Bavarian brand is working on "various projects" with the Japanese marque.
Both companies have been quite vocal against the rush to the widespread adoption of battery EVs. Aside from hydrogen tech, BMW and Toyota believe there's still a future for combustion engines, especially in markets where the charging infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired.
Of course, hydrogen stations are few and far between, and it's not up to the automakers to build them. On the other hand, the EV charging network is rapidly expanding, hence why most car makes are pouring billions into ICE-less cars. BMW will sunset the petrol engine in Rolls-Royce models at the end of the decade, with Mini to follow suit in the early 2030s. The core brand has not set a cutoff date for the combustion engine.
Sources: Bloomberg, Asia Nikkei