Update: ‘Driving Impressions’ section updated and ‘BMW is committed to FCEVs’ section added.
The BMW i Hydrogen Next concept from IAA 2019 has evolved into a production model – the BMW iX5 Hydrogen. BMW Group showcased the hydrogen fuel-cell (FCEV) SUV at the 2021 Munich Motor Show (IAA 2021) last September. Here’s everything we know about the upcoming BMW that only emits water vapor.
Video Source: YouTube/Motor1 Italia
Design & Features
The BMW iX5 Hydrogen is an alternative energy variant of the fourth-gen BMW X5 (BMW G05). It looks like the donor model for the most part, except for the tweaks to highlight its BMW i model line identity.
At the front, the BMW iX5 Hydrogen has a sharper bumper and an exclusive mesh pattern for the BMW kidney grille and the lower air intake grille. The kidney grille has no vertical slats for a clean look, although the mesh pattern is in stark contrast. The “i” logo and the blue accents communicate the SUV’s connection with the BMW i brand. Even the bottom section of the bumper carries blue accents.
The parts covering the BMW kidney grille, the lower air intake, and the two outer air inlets, and the lower rear-end trim’s body elements come from BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Campus. This facility uses 3D printing to produce prototype and standard parts, and it can make even components having geometric shapes that are not possible to make with conventional production methods.
On the sides, the BMW iX5 Hydrogen gets the iX’s 22-inch Individual 1021-style aerodynamic alloy wheels, but with exclusive blue inserts in them. At the rear, the bumper has a model-specific design and features blue accents. The interior design of the iX5 is also the same as X5, and there are only minor visual differences here. There’s just a “hydrogen fuel cell” badge on the door sills and the passenger-side dashboard.
The BMW iX5 Hydrogen has two carbon-fiber hydrogen tanks that store almost 6 kg hydrogen (combined) at a pressure of 700 bar. Filling up the tanks takes 3-4 minutes, so the experience is similar to refueling a gasoline/diesel BMW X5. The vehicle’s drive system converts hydrogen into electricity in a fuel cell, delivering an electrical output of 125 kW/170 hp. Plus, the drive motor can add the energy stored in a traction battery pack, which gets its energy from energy recovery or from the fuel cell, to the mix. The waste heat resulting from the process of converting hydrogen into electricity generates some waste heat, too, which is put to use in warming the cabin.
The drive motor uses the fifth-gen BMW eDrive technology like the BMW iX and generates a power output of 275 kW (374 hp). An Autocar report says that the iX5 weighs roughly the same as an X5 PHEV, around 2,500 kg (5,512 lbs), and it delivers a range of 311 miles (500 km). BMWBlog has reported that further gains are possible, and this may not be the final stat of the production vehicle.
The iX5 Hydrogen is currently undergoing testing in extreme weather conditions. Recently, BMW Group was running it close to the Arctic Circle at its testing center in Arjeplog, northern Sweden. The upcoming hydrogen SUV can deliver peak performance even in temperatures of -20°C, which might not be possible in a battery electric vehicle (BEV). Its drive, energy storage, and control systems have passed the ultimate endurance test in Lapland’s wintery surrounds. It’s worth noting that the iX5 Hydrogen is lighter than a comparable BEV, as it doesn’t rely on a large and heavy battery pack for energy.
Production of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen will commence this year. BMW Group says that it will manufacture only a small series of the hydrogen model this year. It will sell it in select regions, one of which should be the U.S., with availability in California. Germany and Japan will likely also be among the few markets of the iX5.
According to a report from BMW Blog, the market launch of the iX5 will take place in 2023. BMW Group will offer the final iX5 produced in limited numbers to select customers, VIPs, and media, but we don’t know the planned production volume yet. The company hasn’t said whether it will allow customers to purchase the iX5, lease it, or both. More details about the launch plan should surface at the end of the year.
The BMW Group Plant Landshut will manufacture the core components of the iX5’s hydrogen-electric drivetrain. The German production facility will build the stack housing, made of light metal, as well as the media pressure plate, made of plastic and light metal castings. The stack housing holds the fuel cells, and the media end plate creates an air and watertight seal around the stack housing. Channeling the hydrogen, oxygen, and coolant into the stack housing through the media end plate starts the chemical reaction in the fuel cells.
BMW Concept iX5 Hydrogen Protection VR6
Another hydrogen model that grabbed the media’s attention at IAA 2021 was the BMW Concept iX5 Hydrogen Protection VR6 (via press.bmwgroup.com). As the name suggests, it’s the armored variant of the Concept iX5, and it’s the world’s first certified hydrogen fuel cell security vehicle, too.
Unlike typical gas-guzzling armored SUVs that feature six- or eight-cylinder engines, the Concept iX5 Hydrogen Protection VR6 emits no CO2. BMW has used molded parts made of high-strength steel, about 30 mm-thick protective glass, and tight protective sealing gaps in sensitive areas, such as doors and the body in the security variant. The luggage compartment partition of the BMW Concept iX5 Hydrogen Protection VR6 is also armored.
BMW developed its underbody to protect the vehicle from hand-grenade attacks. BMW engineers prioritized shielding the hydrogen tanks, including their valve systems. They used non-magnetic underbody protection, which is lightweight and has minimal effect on the ground clearance. There’s no plan to launch an armored BMW iX5 at the moment. However, the innovative concept opens up new possibilities for protecting leaders and VIPs in the carbon-neutral era.
BMW Group hasn’t confirmed whether it plans to manufacture an armored iX5 as well, but it’s safe to assume that the Concept iX5 Hydrogen Protection VR6 is nothing more than a tech demonstrator at this point.
CNET’s review dated March 10, 2022, states that the iX5 hydrogen is as comfortable and composed as a BMW X5. It drives like a regular EV, and the brake energy recovery feels strong. Drivers can adapt to one-pedal driving, taking the load off the brakes, which would help the discs and pads last longer. The SUV is RWD, so it was happily sliding around on the ice as the press drives were conducted in Arjeplog, Sweden.
The biggest takeaway is that, despite packing a complex fuel-cell technology under the hood, the iX5 drives like a typical EV. Even the interior is identical to the X5, except for a few graphics on the digital instrument cluster and the infotainment. It also generates an artificial electric vehicle sound, which is important to alert pedestrians. BMWBlog says that the power delivery reminds you of the iX3, and feels punchy.
Dr. Juergen Guldner, VP Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology at BMW Group, told BMWBlog (via Youtube) during the press drive of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen that larger vehicles (like the X5, X7 and 7 Series) are sensible choices for hydrogen fuel-cell technology. He stated that big cars are used for longer travels with family and weekend trips. According to Guldner, the X5 has a lot of customers who travel often and that’s why it was the most suitable application for fuel-cell technology as a host vehicle.
If BMW’s FCEV gains popularity, the brand may use the hydrogen technology, which it has been developing in collaboration with Toyota, on other large-size models in the future. Toyota was the early pioneer in hydrogen fuel cell technology, and in 2015, the Japanese brand allowed royalty-free use of nearly 5,680 of the FCEV-related patent licenses on unconsolidated terms. The Toyota Mirai is currently its only FCEV that is sold in the United States.
BMW is committed to FCEVs
Pieter Nota, member of the board of management at BMW AG, elaborated on the brand’s focus on fuel-cell technology during a roundtable conference in New York City, reported BMWBlog on April 14, 2022. He added that iX5 Hydrogen is being prepared for launch in 2023. However, it will not be a mass-market FCEV and will be offered to select clients, media, and VIPs, at least in the initial phase.
FCEVs can be suitable alternatives for customers who don’t prefer long charging times of BEVs—hydrogen tanks can be topped up within minutes, unlike batteries that take far longer to recharge. However, FCEVs face a similar challenge, i.e., the availability of hydrogen filling stations which are scarce across the globe.
Featured Image Source: BMW Group