BMW To Test Fuel Cell Car; Marketing Head Suggests Battery Cars Will Ultimately Prevail

BMW will begin testing of what may be called the i5 fuel cell vehicle using a Toyota co-developed fuel cell system, but battery electric technology may rise up and render it uncompetitive before hydrogen ever really takes hold, says the German automaker.

This revelation by its sales and marketing chief that BMW’s FCV may never reach production comes as Toyota has eagerly pushed its agenda for the “Hydrogen Society” of nationwide fuel cell vehicle proliferation over the next decade and a half.

BMW has been partnered in fuel cell development with Toyota, and its new i-series of cars based around battery tech are being developed alongside, with the electric i3 and i8 plug-in hybrid on the market beginning last year in Europe and this year in the U.S.

But despite the FCV testing, things look brighter for batteries. According to BMW’s sales and marketing chief, Ian Robertson, lithium-air and solid state batteries may remove the few advantages touted for fuel cell vehicles – namely, fast refueling, and long range.

Over the next 10 years while Toyota hopes to see hydrogen refuling infrastructure come online, Robertson said progress on lithium ion then advanced batteries beyond could “see charging time and range worries disappear.”

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“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.”


Toyota’s insistence on not developing battery production cars such as Nissan is doing has upset those wanting to see a weaning away from petroleum. It would appear BMW – straddling the middle ground working on both technologies – is mildly upholding plug-in advocate views.

Actually, Toyota too is working on solid state and lithium air batteries – with BMW – although for now it is more famous for saying lithium ion cannot meet society’s needs or specifically, those of its customers.

This is very much a shakeout between technologies, with battery tech already ahead in the race. And not only did Robertson tell Autocar batteries appear to be the odds-on favorite, he also can foresee the day when a tipping point will see the industry turn away from internal combustion.

“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.”