Volkswagen executive tells Autocar the group won't be looking into hydrogen-powered cars for the general market any time soon
Matt Burt
23 November 2013

The Volkswagen Group isn’t in a hurry to introduce a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to the general market, according to one of the key figures behind the German giant’s ambitious e-mobility strategy.

Although global rivals such as Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are moving closer to introducing production fuel cell vehicles, the VW Group’s commissioner for electric drive systems, Rudolf Krebs, isn’t convinced that hydrogen will be fully marketable until 2020.

Krebs was speaking at the Los Angeles motor show, where the VW Group reiterated its intention to become the world’s biggest player in e-mobility by 2018 by producing electric and hybrid vehicles in all car segments and across all of its brands.

“We have a huge hydrogen car programme ongoing,” said Krebs. “We have a lot of cars that are being tested with a fuel cell stack, but we have to make clear that hydrogen vehicles in bigger numbers will not happen before 2020. There is no infrastructure available and the technology is extremely expensive and not as reliable as conventional vehicles.”

He pointed out that although hydrogen had the benefits of zero tailpipe emissions and none of the driving range issues attached to battery-electric vehicles, there are still concerns over the efficiency of producing the energy.

“We still have the problem that hydrogen mobility only makes sense if you use green energy – you have to use green electricity, then convert it from electric to hydrogen, during which you lose about 40 per cent of the initial energy,” explained Krebs.

“Then you have to compress the hydrogen to 700bar to store it in the vehicle, which costs you further efficiency. After that, you have to convert the hydrogen back to electricity through the vehicle’s fuel cell, which brings another efficiency loss. In the end, from your original 100 per cent electric energy, you end up with between 30 and 40 per cent efficiency.”

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf

Just how good is the mighty Volkswagen Golf? The seventh generation of Europe's best selling car has been facelifted to keep its nose ahead of its rivals

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Krebs believed the best solution would be a vehicle that relies primarily on battery electric propulsion, with a hydrogen fuel cell as a back-up.

“The best hydrogen vehicle will be a plug-in – you enlarge the capacity of the battery to a certain extent, and do most of your journeys using that, and only in the case of emergency – or if you wish to drive long distances – do you use the hydrogen. In terms of energy saving, this is the only way to have a sensible hydrogen vehicle,” he said.

The Volkswagen Group’s MQB car platform has been future-proofed to accept fuel cell technology if necessary, said Krebs, but the company’s short-term focus was on refining its electric and hybrid cars: “First of all we need to do our homework and make a very good electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. In doing so we bring down the cost of the components and optimise the efficiency and performance of the products. Hydrogen can come later because it uses all the same technological components.”

By next year the VW Group will have 14 hybrid, electric and plug-in vehicles on the market across all of its brands, including the e-Golf EV shown off at the LA show this week. Krebs said 40 of the group’s models can be fitted with alternative drivetrains, according to demand.

Read more LA motor show news.

Join the debate


23 November 2013
Matt, what are you smoking these days? Your journalism seems all over the place to put it mildly. Hyundai is already mass producing fuel-cell cars- the hydrogen-powered ix35 to the tune of around 1000 a year at its Ulsan plant in South Korea. You might also recall that it's the world's first hydrogen powered vehicle to be put into mass production.

23 November 2013
I don't smoke Mark. My reading is that Hyundai plans to make up to 1000 cars at Ulsan between now and 2015 (not per year) and then expects to move to production of about 10,000 vehicles per year from 2015 onwards.

24 November 2013
[quote=Mark Rodriguez]Matt, what are you smoking these days? Your journalism seems all over the place to put it mildly. Hyundai is already mass producing fuel-cell cars- t.[/quote] Before being so rude I'd check your facts first, they aren't mass producing cars at the moment and only have plans to do so at the moment! The only reason they're putting these stories about is that they have no decent answer to the Leaf, Golf's, Ampera's, Audi A3 e-tron, BMW's, Volvo's etc But best of all what's the financial benefit for the consumer over petrol. Electric at 2p a mile yes please.

23 November 2013
VW are simply stating their opinion on the fuel cell market, which based on figures of 10000 cars a year from one manufacturer totally backs up their interpretation of the market. Infrastructure for hydrogen is the one of the main limiting factors for growth and with cash strapped governments unlikely to help it will have to bob along with small sales (that only MG could wish for) until 2020 when VW will kick in and show hyundai how it's done.

25 November 2013
of any technological development is rather impressive (amusing). I'm sure before 2020 they'll launch a XL1 type hydrogen gimmick and then leave it to their PR to affirm their position as the market leader.

25 November 2013
This is a smokescreen for a flawed a tortuously slow new product development process - VW's equivalent of the C-Max only just made it to prototype a few weeks ago; they have no production electric or hybrid vehicles; they seem intent on disguising this flaw by producing nothing but gimmicky XL1; and whatever happened to the "Bulli"? Why do you waste column inches on giving airtime to the pronouncements of these organs of hot air?

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week