BMW iX5 hydrogen fuel cell SUV goes into production

BMW announced last week that it has started production of hydrogen-electric BMW X5 SUVs at a small-scale pilot plant in Munich, Germany. The SUVs will be used for testing and demonstration purposes from next spring and will not be offered for sale. BMW hasn’t said how many it plans to build.

A hydrogen electric vehicle is essentially an electric vehicle that uses a hydrogen fuel cell instead of a battery to power the electric motor. The fuel cell combines almost zero-emissions hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen to generate electricity, which can be used directly or via an interconnected battery to drive the vehicle.

In the case of BMW’s hydrogen-electric X5, dubbed the BMW iX5 Hydrogen, the fuel cell sits up front and draws hydrogen from two tanks, one in the transmission tunnel and the other under the rear seat. A single electric motor drives the rear wheels.

BMW iX5 hydrogen production – Dec 2022

BMW iX5 hydrogen production – Dec 2022

The electricity generated by the fuel cell drives the motor directly, but is also used to charge a small battery that powers the motor in high load situations. Total system output is 368 hp when power is drawn from the fuel cell and battery, while the fuel cell alone produces 167 hp in continuous mode.

The build process of the iX5 Hydrogen begins with a standard X5 from BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The vehicle will first be fitted with a new underbody designed to accommodate the pair of hydrogen tanks, the battery and various other electrical systems and associated wiring. This is followed by the fuel cell and electric motor.

The iX5 Hydrogen was first shown as a concept in 2019, and despite the start of production, BMW continues to rely on battery electric vehicles as the main way to achieve zero-carbon operation. BMW has developed the iX5 Hydrogen in such a way that in the future it can supply customers with the powertrain of their choice, be it petrol, diesel, battery-electric or hydrogen-electric.

BMW iX5 hydrogen production – Dec 2022

BMW iX5 hydrogen production – Dec 2022

“We are certain that hydrogen will become significantly more important for individual mobility and therefore consider a mixture of battery and fuel cell electric drive to make sense in the long term,” said Frank Weber, Head of Research and Development at BMW, in a statement. “With our BMW iX5 Hydrogen test fleet, we will gain new and valuable insights in order to be able to present customers with an attractive range of products as soon as the hydrogen economy becomes a reality across the board.”

BMW previously said it does not expect to start selling hydrogen electric vehicles to private customers before 2025.

BMW isn’t the only established automaker seriously considering hydrogen as a future fuel source. Toyota is offering a second-generation Mirai, including in some U.S. states where hydrogen is actually available, while companies like Hyundai Motor Group, Daimler Trucks and Volvo Trucks look to the long-haul fuel. Honda also announced plans to launch a hydrogen-electric CR-V in November. It will be built at the former Acura NSX plant in Ohio starting in 2024.

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