BMW’s Hydrogen X5 Promises 374 HP and Blissful Silence

Just as BMW is expanding its hybrid offerings and finally fielding battery-electric vehicles, it hasn’t forgotten about one other alternative fuel: The automaker plans to present the prototype for the next hydrogen-electric vehicle in 2022, producing it “in a small series” ahead of a wider mass-market offering in the second half of the decade.

If BMW doing a hydrogen fuel-cell car seems like it’s coming out of left field, especially now, the reality is the Munich-based automaker has been working on hydrogen tech for more than four decades. Most recently BMW showed the X5-based i Hydrogen Next concept last fall. The prototype version BMW is showing in 2022 is also X5-based, and earlier this week BMW shared a number of technical details about this upcoming powertrain.

The prototypes will essentially be EVs with two 700-bar (more than 10,000 psi) hydrogen tanks; combining the hydrogen from the tanks with oxygen will generate electricity, which will in turn power X5’s 170-hp EV drivetrain. One hydrogen fuel tank is positioned under the rear seat while the other is in the transmission tunnel. The SUV also features a small battery designed to provide extra power, located in the rear just above the electric motor, with the drivetrain providing 374-hp peak combined output.

“The electric converter located underneath the fuel cell adapts the voltage level to that of both the electric powertrain and the peak power battery, which is fed by brake energy as well as the energy from the fuel cell,” BMW notes.

Hydrogen fill-ups will take three or four minutes—one advantage that BMW believes hydrogen holds over battery-electric vehicles at the moment. There is, of course, the issue of finding a hydrogen fuel station, but this hasn’t stopped other automakers from offering hydrogen cars in certain parts of the U.S.

“Although the BMW Group has no doubt as to the long-term potential of fuel-cell powertrain systems, it will be some time before the company offers its customers a production car powered by hydrogen fuel-cell technology,” the automaker said. “This is primarily due to the fact that the right framework conditions are not yet in place.”

The right framework conditions will not likely be in place in 2022 when BMW plans to produce a small run of prototypes, and it remains to be seen whether something will be in place in the second half of the decade. Toyota offers hydrogen fuel-cell cars to the public, and BMW is actively working with Toyota in developing this tech.

On a related note, have you noticed that both Toyota and BMW have been notable BEV holdouts until very recently, focusing instead on hybrid technology while also spending time on said hydrogen tech as side projects?

Having few hydrogen stations is amplified by the high cost of transport to these stations compared to the ease of getting electricity to EV stations. Indeed, it was difficult to picture any kind of mass adoption of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles even before the positively retro gasoline prices we are seeing arrived to remind everyone of the 1990s.

BMW is realistic about which alternative energy will result in more sales in the new decade, having revealed plans to field a battery-electric 7-Series earlier this week.

Plan for EV stations to be easier to find than hydrogen fuel stations for some time.

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