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BMW Is Trying To Cover Every Base

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BMW said earlier this year that it’ll be making gas engines for at least 30 more years, and while its electric ambitions are kind of lame, it emerged Friday that they’re doing a fuel-cell version X5, too.

This new X5 will be in a “limited production run,” according to Bloomberg, which suggests to me that it is more of a way for BMW to keep current on technology rather than actually have a proper go at making, marketing, and selling a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.


BMW is also using Toyota fuel cells for this, which means this entire project is mainly an exercise in doing the bare minimum.

The i Hydrogen NEXT will get a limited production run starting in 2022, the German manufacturer said in a statement Friday. Toyota Motor Corp. will supply the fuel cells for the vehicle.

The technology “could have the potential to become another pillar in the portfolio of BMW,” Chief Executive Officer Oliver Zipse said.


Indeed, “could” is doing a lot of work there, since it’s still very far from assured that fuel-cell tech will cross the finish, even if a lot of people agree that long-term—a few decades from now most likely—it is a lot more promising than battery electric vehicles. That’s because you can see a future where plains and trains are powered by fuel cell tech, but not one where those things are powered by batteries.

For BMW, this is less about that long-term future and more about a shorter-term one. What if fuel cell becomes more of a thing in the next, say, 10 years, not 50? It at least wants to know something about it, just like with its fairly modest electric efforts.

Zipse, who was head of production at BMW before becoming CEO last year, is sticking to a strategy of making as many variants of a car. The manufacturer currently makes battery-powered and combustion engine cars on one production line, which Zipse says lets the company react more flexibly to demand.

All told I suspect BMW will eventually regret not taking bigger swings in either electric or fuel cell, because as its rivals have shown, there’s really no substitute for experience. But at least a fuel cell version of the X5 is something, I guess.