During our coverage of the Frankfurt Auto Show, Roundel Editor-in-Chief Satch Carlson briefly mentioned the appearance of the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT. Described in simple terms as a hybrid X5 with electric motors powered by energy courtesy of a hydrogen fuel cell, Carlson wrote the idea off considering BMWs previous bungled efforts in the space, and a severe lack of infrastructure (hydrogen fuel stations). Carlson is correct in what he says, as the BMW Hydrogen 7 was a failure due to severe inefficiency when the engine was running on hydrogen, and virtually nowhere to fill them up.
Not much has changed in the world of hydrogen motivation over the past few decades in terms of networked infrastructure. The way in which it is being used to propel actual fuel cell vehicles themselves, however, has. While previous efforts involved burning the gas, which has a much lower energy density than traditional gasoline, the i Hydrogen NEXT uses a fuel cell that generates electricity when hydrogen interacts with air. The only byproducts are water vapor which is exhausted out the rear, and electricity, which is routed to a single motor that powers the rear wheels.
The big benefit here is that, instead of waiting for a battery to recharge, the hydrogen fuel cell can be refilled in less than four minutes, just like the tank in a gas or diesel vehicle. BMW claims a range of between 310 and 370 miles, and described the motor as more than adequate in terms of power. Interior passenger room and storage capacity haven’t been reduced from a conventional gas-powered X5, either. The technology was developed in a joint effort with Toyota, and a test fleet of 100 hydrogen X5 vehicles is due in 2022.
BMW admits that the infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles remains in, “early stages of development,” but this latest hydrogen effort isn’t just noteworthy because of the technology it showcases.
As was pointed out by Car and Driver, the X5 that was used as the underlying basis of the i Hydrogen NEXT appears to be wearing aero pieces that match up with leaked photos of X5 M prototypes. The forthcoming X5 M, which will be based on its own version of the current G05 platform, is due to arrive in 2021 with respective performance similar to what’s offered in the M5 and M8. Although the large air passages, grilles, and exhaust are all blocked off with i-inspired panels and trim on i Hydrogen NEXT, the size and presence of the openings, along with other visual cues, seem a lot like the visual differentiators we’re used to seeing on M models.
Of course, rather than emitting water vapor and using hydrogen to achieve mobility, the X5 M will have a 4.4-liter S63 M V8 with up to 617 horsepower, and you can still fill it up in just a few minutes.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]