BMW will explore fuel cell power for Neue Klasse EV platform

BMW is investigating production of a hydrogen fuel cell version of cars on its coming Neue Klasse (New Class) full-electric platform, CEO Oliver Zipse said.

“In our view, hydrogen is the missing piece of the puzzle that can complement electromobility places where battery-electric drivetrains are unable to gain traction,” Zipse said on the company’s earnings call on Wednesday.

The first cars on the Neue Klasse platform are due in 2025 and will initially include a sedan similar in size to the 3-Series midsize car and a “sporty SUV,” Zipse said on the call. “We could also imagine a hydrogen drivetrain for this new vehicle generation,” he added.

BMW will start limited production at the end of the year of a hydrogen fuel-cell version of the X5 large crossover, called iX5 Hydrogen. “We are already thinking about a possible next generation,” Zipse said.

BMW unveiled the iX5 Hydrogen prototype at the IAA mobility show in Munich in 2021.

The car combines a fuel-cell with a battery to give a combined output of 374 hp. Filling up the tanks takes three to four minutes, BMW said. The project was partly funded by the German government.

BMW is hydrogen’s biggest advocate among German automakers as it plots a path to zero emissions. Others have been less keen on the drivetrain due to its high cost and the currently limited hydrogen refueling infrastructure. In 2020 Daimler said it would cease development of its GLC F-Cell fuel cell crossover. 

Among non-German automakers, Renault recently showed the Scenic Vision concept, which previews both the automaker’s upcoming compact electric crossover, and a future hybrid powertrain combining hydrogen fuel cells and lithium ion batteries. 

Toyota continues to sell the hydrogen fuel cell Mirai sedan in limited numbers, although it is not a battery hybrid like the Renault and BMW vehicles. And both Renault and Stellantis sell hybrid hydrogen-battery electric commercial vans. 

Fuel-cell proponents say the technology is well-suited for heavier personal vehicles such as crossovers often used for long trips and would need a large and expensive battery pack to match the range of smaller full-electric cars.

BMW’s openness to include hydrogen fuel-cells in its Neue Klasse vehicles indicates the platform’s flexibility — the company has said it is electric only.

Fuel-cell vehicles convert hydrogen to electricity, with the only emission being water. 

The Neue Klasse platform goes into production in 2025 at the automaker’s new factory in Debrecen, Hungary. The platform will also be used in the company’s Munich factory, which will produce vehicles based on it starting in 2026, Zipse said.

Zipse said BMW would give a  “glimpse” of a future Neue Klasse vehicle at the next IAA Mobility event, scheduled for September 2023 in Munich. He said it would offer “a spectacular digital experience for our customers” but gave no other details. 

BMW expects more than half of its global sales will come from vehicles on the platform by the end of the decade, Zipse said.


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