BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will begin testing in the near future - but advances in battery technology may mean that they never reach production, according to the firm’s sales and marketing boss, Ian Robertson.
The firm has previously run a trial with hydrogen-powered vehicles; starting in 2007, it put 100 6.9-litre V12-engined 7-series on the road capable of running on petrol or hydrogen. Developing 256bhp and 290lb ft, the cars hit 62mph in 9.5sec.
The new generation of test cars are currently under development, with the technology being co-developed with Toyota. In particular, packaging of the fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage are said to have advanced significantly in recent years.
“We’ve said we’ll continue to invest in hydrogen and that will result in a small number of production test vehicles being made to prove the technology works,” said Robertson. “The real issues lie not around what we can do, though, but whether the infrastructure can be built up to supply hydrogen in the marketplace cost-effectively.”
As a result of the issues of the cost of hydrogen production and distribution, Robertson suggested battery technology gains could instead accelerate sales of electric vehicles. Advances in lithium ion technology are set to be followed by a switch to lithium air and then solid-state batteries. These advances over the next 10 years could “see charging time and range worries disappear”, according to Robertson.
In addition, Robertson indicated that he could now envisage a time in the future when investment in internal combustion engine technology switched to battery and electric motor advances. “At some point in the future the technologies will switch over,” he said. “When the crossover comes and the focus becomes electricity, the rate of learning will accelerate even faster,” he said. “Relatively, that time is not far away.”
BMW is expecting to sell 15,000 BMW i3 electric or range-extended vehicles in 2014, making it the third-largest electric car maker. The i3 will go on sale in Asia in 2015.
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