BMW Will Unveil Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology, Additional i Services, at 2015 Detroit Auto Show

German luxury brand BMW might be in the middle of a massive plug-in push right now, but at next month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it will debut a ‘drive module prototype’ which will preview a possible hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

To date, BMW has focused on plug-in cars, but BMW is about to unveil hydrogen fuel cell technology for a future vehicle.

To date, BMW has focused on plug-in cars, but BMW is about to unveil hydrogen fuel cell technology for a future vehicle.

In addition, the company says, it will be announcing a roll out of additional services targeted at its BMW i3 and i8 plug-in car drivers, including its own network of DC fast charging stations and an expansion of its ChargeNow and DriveNow services.

Detailed in BMW’s official press release previewing its participation in the NAIAS in Detroit this coming January, the news demonstrates BMW’s plans to become a leader in low and zero-emission vehicles, regardless of the fuel type. It also certainly seems to give credence to the rumour that it will dump the internal combustion engine for good in ten years’ time and the rumour that BMW is planning a hydrogen variant of the i3 at some point in the future.

January’s debut of BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell technology will demonstrate the use of hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain and energy storage components in a possible future fuel cell vehicle. While BMW isn’t clear if this means we’ll see a prototype of a future production vehicle, a hydrogen fuel cell test mule, or a purely concept car, we won’t be surprised if BMW’s show prototype makes use of either a BMW i3 or i8 as the test mule.

We won't be surprised if January's debut uses a BMW i3 as a test-mule for BMW's hydrogen fuel cell technology.

We won’t be surprised if January’s debut uses a BMW i3 as a test-mule for BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell technology.

What is clear is BMW’s commitment to developing a hydrogen fuel cell system for future commercial use, which it says will be developed in a similar way to its i3 and i8, focusing on a specific platform for the technology rather than trying to shoehorn it into an existing model.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen BMW work on a hydrogen vehicle, although to date the majority of BMW’s forays into hydrogen vehicles have been in the field of hydrogen combustion rather than fuel cell vehicles. Save for a few concept cars and a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell pickup trucks used at the factory where its X5 SUV is built, this will be the first time we’ll see BMW actively promoting hydrogen fuel cell technology as a future production path, and the first time we’ll see the fruits of a long-running partnership between BMW and Toyota on fuel cell technology.

A joint partnership which saw BMW share its diesel engine technology with Toyota and Toyota share its hydrogen and hybrid technology with BMW, the fuel cell being displayed by BMW in January has been jointly developed by both companies. As a consequence, it shares a lot of its DNA with the production 2015  Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle although BMW has said it has been modified for BMW’s uses.

BMW's hydrogen fuel cell demonstration vehicle will use the same fuel cell as the 2015 Toyota Mirai FCV.

BMW’s hydrogen fuel cell demonstration vehicle will use the same fuel cell as the 2015 Toyota Mirai FCV.

In addition to its fuel cell technology demonstrator, BMW says 2015 NAIAS will also be the launch point for a whole swathe of new owners services for BMW i3 and i8 owners. In addition to expanding its ChargeNow charging network, BMW says it will be announcing a rollout of BMW i DC fast chargers across the U.S. Designed to wall mount, BMW’s 24 kilowatt i DC fast charger isn’t as powerful as the maximum theoretical 50 kW power rating of most CCS DC quick charging stations, but is substantially cheaper and easier to install and maintain. It is also capable of recharging compatible CCS BMW i3 models from empty to 80 percent full in a little over 30 minutes.

While we’re not sure yet what the scope of the new ChargeNow expansion will be, it’s expected that BMW will be seeking to ensure there are rapid charging stations every 70 miles or so in urban and suburban areas, facilitating longer-distance travel by BWM i3 or BMW i3 REx without relying on gasoline.

BMW will also unveil an expansion of existing services for BMW i3 and i8 owners.

BMW will also unveil an expansion of existing services for BMW i3 and i8 owners.

In tandem with this expansion, BMW will also be announcing refinements to its ParkNow web and app-based service, as well as a new second-life series of pilot projects in North America, Europe and Asia which will allow battery packs from BMW vehicles to find a second life as stationary energy storage devices after their battery capacities have dropped to a level which renders them unsuitable for life on the road.

The 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit holds its press previews on January 12 and 13, before opening its doors to the general public from January 17-25. As with any other major auto show, we’ll be providing up-to-date coverage here on TransportEvolved.

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