Rumor: BMW To Produce, Sell Hydrogen-Fuel Cell i-Branded Car by 2020

With its BMW i3 and BMW i8 plug-in cars setting the bar for eco-friendly vehicular design and plans to manufacture plug-in hybrid variants of many of its best-selling models, German automaker BMW is one of the auto industry’s biggest supporters of plug-in vehicles today.

Indeed, as we detailed last year, some believe BMW plans to ditch the internal combustion engine is as little as ten years, focusing instead on high-powered all-electric models that adhere to the company goal of producing the ultimate driving machines.

By 2020, a hydrogen fuel cell car could be joining the BMW i3 and i8 in the BMW i-Brand family.

By 2020, a hydrogen fuel cell car could be joining the BMW i3 and i8 in the BMW i-Brand family.

But according to British publication AutoExpress, BMW’s partnership with Japanese automaker Toyota means that it will soon be bringing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to market, sold under the same BMW i brand as the i3 and i8 plug-in models.

Citing unnamed sources at BMW, the magazine claims BMW has used its technical and engineering alliance with Toyota — which includes the sharing of diesel, hybrid and fuel cell technology between the two firms — to build a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that BMW will debut in the marketplace by 2020.

We are betting on the second generation of the technology being right for production, so our target is 2020.Unnamed BMW source

“We will still be developing the technologies and doing everything else behind the scenes, but we will pass on the chance to do a production car from the first generation of the development,” a senior BMW source is said to have too the publication. “We are betting on the second generation of the technology being right for production, so our target is 2020.”

Publicly, BMW isn’t even talking yet about its hydrogen fuel cell platform. Indeed, despite initially promising late last year that it would debut a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle ‘drive module prototype’ at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, the automaker quietly pulled the exhibit from the auto show listing a week later.

Not only was the drive module prototype pulled from Detroit, but it has failed to materialise at subsequent major auto shows, with BMW choosing to focus on other technologies instead — such as its X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid SUV.

The absence of a show vehicle or even a test mule doesn’t mean however that BMW isn’t quietly working on hydrogen fuel cell technology. Indeed, this latest rumour only substantiates others we’ve heard in recent months, all of which point to BMW developing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in the near future.

Thanks to a joint agreement with Toyota, BMW has access to its hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Thanks to a joint agreement with Toyota, BMW has access to its hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The logic behind waiting until 2020 also seems to stand up to scrutiny. At the moment, Toyota’s current-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology — as found in its limited-production, hand-built 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan — isn’t suited to large-scale mass-production. In fact, while Toyota’s latest-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology can be produced at just a fraction of the cost of its previous hydrogen fuel cell systems, each hydrogen fuel cell stack — one is required per vehicle — costs around $50,000 to produce.

Toyota’s next-generation hydrogen fuel cell technology, which Toyota already promises will be far cheaper to produce and easier to make in large quantities on a production line, is due to debut in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. That places usable, next-generation technology at just the right time for BMW to make use of it, tying in nicely with the AutoExpress rumour.

Historically too, BMW’s reported decision to wait until hydrogen fuel cell technology has matured also ties in nicely with its previous approach to electric vehicle development. Instead of being the first automaker to market, BMW let other brands like Nissan and General Motors test the metaphorical waters before launching the BMW i3 and i8. Despite being well behind the early-adopter wave, BMW’s decision to wait allowed it to learn from the mistakes of its rivals in the early plug-in marketplace and gave it extra time to develop the lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) designs that give the i3 and i8 their respectively impressive class fuel economies.

Following a similar approach with hydrogen fuel cell technology could give BMW a competitive edge in the marketplace without suffering some of the drawbacks of being first to market. Waiting until 2020 also gives the automaker time to evaluate the growth of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in its key market areas, ensuring it doesn’t spend time and money bringing a vehicle to market that can’t be used for long-distance travel due to a lack of refuelling infrastructure.

Waiting would also allow BMW to evaluate the status of hydrogen fuelling networks in key market areas.

Waiting would also allow BMW to evaluate the status of hydrogen fuelling networks in key market areas.

We also note, as does AutoExpress, that 2020 would fall in line with the expected debut of the second-generation BMW i3 and second-generation BMW i8, meaning either model could be offered with hydrogen fuel cell technology alongside battery electric technology.

Do you believe the rumor? Should BMW develop a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and sell it under the i-brand? Is waiting a smart move?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • Surya

    I’d rather see it going the other way: Toyota using i3 technology to make a BEV. One can always dream, no?

  • Joe Viocoe

    2005, 2010, 2015,… now 2020.
    Kicking the can down the road, about 5 years at a time.

    Fuel of the Future… indeed.

  • CDspeed

    Boo, plug-in or I’m out.

  • AntonWahlman

    Link to, and date of, the original source article please?

  • Chris O

    Wonder why a German car company would be keen on doing a car that ultimately runs on natural gas. The homeland completely depends on Russia for supply and is interested in getting less depended on it, not more depended in light of Russia’s increasingly expansionist policies.

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