The idea of a hydrogen-fueled BMW might seem like a novelty to some, but die-hard fans of the brand will probably remember the bonkers H2R concept equipped with a V12 engine that set nine world records in the first half of the previous decade. Several years later, a limited-run Hydrogen 7 was launched based on the company’s flagship model in the 760Li guise with the mighty V12.
At the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW revealed the i Hydrogen Next fuel cell development vehicle. The company introduced this car on the assumption that, in future, various alternative types of drive systems will exist alongside one another. Hydrogen, along with plug-in hybrids and electric cars will underline the BMW Group’s commitment to achieving zero-emission mobility as part of its long term strategy. In 2022, the BMW Group is planning to present the next generation of hydrogen fuel cell electric drive systems in a small-series vehicle based on the current BMW X5. The BMW i Hydrogen Next provides an initial glimpse of what that very model. The BMW Group would start offering fuel cell vehicles for customers in 2025 at the earliest, but the timing very much depends on market requirements and overall conditions.
In 2013, the Bavarians inked a deal with Toyota to jointly work on hydrogen fuel cell technology, and the two started testing a small batch of 5 Series GT hydrogen vehicles in 2015. The same year, BMW unveiled an i8 hydrogen fuel cell research vehicle and admitted those patent images depicting a peculiar concept belonged to another hydrogen research vehicle.
In 2018, BMW revealed plans to continue development of a new road-going hydrogen car, and now the German premium marque is reiterating its plans for a fuel cell vehicle you’ll (maybe) one day be able to buy by showing the i Hydrogen NEXT. Based on the latest-generation X5, the electric SUV feeding on hydrogen looks almost the same as the conventionally powered model, but there are some obvious blue accents on the body and wheels. The lack of a visible exhaust at the back where there are now blanked-off blue panels denotes the concept doesn’t have an internal combustion engine.
BMW is not offering any details about the technical specifications, but we do know the i Hydrogen NEXT will morph into an electric fuel cell road-going model in 2022 with refueling times of under four minutes and a generous range between them. However, just like it was the case with the aforementioned Hydrogen 7, production will be extremely limited. If everything goes according to plan, a series production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will be launched in 2025 at the earliest, provided there’s going to be enough demand for it and the necessary infrastructure.
The i Hydrogen Next demonstrates that this technology can be integrated effectively into production car and hence the X5 is the perfect car to build it on. But there are a few modifications made to the car. At the front end, the modifications are most clearly visible in the distinctive BMW i Blue patterning on the bonnet. This patterning reappears in three-dimensional form in the air intakes. The pattern’s shape and colour form a dynamic flow across the front end and flanks of the Mineral White body. The detailing on the light-alloy wheels too brings out the BMW DNA. At the rear are i Blue diffuser elements. Their blanked off design without exhaust tailpipes assures you that the car’s drive system produces zero local emissions.
The BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corporation joined forces in 2013 to co-develop a drive system using hydrogen fuel cell technology. Since 2015, the BMW Group’s research wing has been testing a small fleet of prototype BMW 5 Series GT hydrogen fuel cell vehicles powered by a jointly developed drive system with a Toyota fuel cell stack. In 2016, the two companies signed a product development partnership agreement. Since then they have been working together on future generations of fuel cell drive systems and on scalable, modular components for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
In January 2017, the BMW Group and Toyota teamed up with eleven leading energy, transport and industrial companies to launch a global initiative known as the Hydrogen Council. Its aim is to forge a united vision and push ahead with the long-term ambition of a hydrogen-fuelled energy revolution. As of June 2019, the Hydrogen Council has grown to 60 member companies.