German luxury car maker BMW is pushing forward with production of a new fuel-cell car because, in the near future, “hydrogen will be the hippest thing to drive”, according to CEO Oliver Zipse.
“After the electric car, which has been going on for about ten years and scaling up rapidly, the next trend will be hydrogen,” he told Bloomberg in an interview.
“When it’s more scaleable, hydrogen will be the hippest thing to drive.”
Zipse suggested that its new H2-powered iX5 car would be on sale in the US within the next five years, although Bloomberg had previously reported that BMW was due to start delivering a handful of units to “select partners” in Europe, the US and Asia from early next year.
“To say in... the UK and in Europe in 2035, there’s only one drivetrain, that is a dangerous thing,” he told Bloomberg. “For the customers, for the industry, for employment, for the climate, from every angle you look at, that is a dangerous path to go.”
He did not, apparently, explain why this might be, or address the fact that hydrogen fuel-cell cars will almost certainly be more expensive to buy, maintain and power than a battery-electric car — or why they would suddenly become “hip”.
Zipse also believes that the infrastructure required for hydrogen fuelling is “very simple”.
“There will [soon] be markets where you must drive emission-free, but you do not have access to EV public charging infrastructure,” he said, apparently dismissing the 1.8 million public EV chargepoints around the world at the end of 2021 (compared to 685 hydrogen filling stations) and the fact that the vast majority of EV drivers currently do most of their charging at home. “You could argue, well, you also don’t have access to hydrogen infrastructure, but this is very simple to do: It’s a tank which you put in there like an old [petrol] tank, and you recharge it every six months or 12 months.”
Of course, EV chargepoints are plugged into the electricity grid and do not need refilling. Plus, hydrogen filling stations cost a minimum of $2m, according to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership, compared to $40,000 for an EV fast-charging point.
Hydrogen filling stations have also been notoriously unreliable. In California, stations have frequently run out of fuel, leaving FCEVs stranded and unable to refuel, with customers begging Toyota to let them return their vehicles. And in South Korea, a government report last year revealed that the country’s 12 motorway hydrogen filling stations broke down a total of 221 times between April 2019 and August 2021.
Most major automakers are turning away from hydrogen, with Daimler, Audi and Porsche abandoning their fuel-cell programmes to focus on battery EVs. Only Toyota and Hyundai currently have hydrogen-powered cars for sale, with Honda discontinuing its Clarity fuel-cell model in August 2021 due to weak demand.