BMW is not giving up on electric car alternatives. The automaker will unveil an X5 SUV fueled by hydrogen in 2022 and will offer it in limited markets.
It’s expected that the X5’s hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain will have been developed with Toyota, though Reuters reported that BMW CEO Oliver Zipse let few details slip at the automaker’s shareholder meeting.
Automakers have dabbled in hydrogen fuel-cell powertrains and hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), but few have been offered for widespread mainstream use.
A hydrogen fuel-cell stack can be thought of like an electric car’s battery in the way it produces electricity to power an electric motor that drives the wheels. Additionally, an electric battery is onboard in the FCEV to capture energy otherwise lost during braking. That energy gets fed back to the system for additional acceleration and to power accessories or the entire vehicle at lower speeds.
Only water and warm air emerge from the car’s tailpipe, and hydrogen fuel cell cars are effectively as quiet as electric vehicles. FCEVs do not need to recharged, and adding hydrogen takes only a few minutes.
While that sounds promising, there are downsides to FCEVs.
Hydrogen fueling stations are in short supply compared to electric charging infrastructure. Fewer than 50 stations are open to the public in North America, and the vast majority of those are in California. Additionally, automakers have said that lithium-ion batteries are far more efficient than fuel cells.
Only Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai currently sell FCEVs, none of which are offered to consumers outside California. It’s not clear where BMW will sell its hydrogen-powered X5. Find a BMW X5 for sale