BMW's first hydrogen vehicle iX5 gives the best of both worlds

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BMW's first hydrogen vehicle iX5 gives the best of both worlds

BMW iX5 hydrogen pilot vehicles on Yeongjong Island, Incheon [BMW]

BMW iX5 hydrogen pilot vehicles on Yeongjong Island, Incheon [BMW]

 
INCHEON — It's as smooth as an electric vehicle and as light as a plug-in hybrid.
 
BMW’s first hydrogen pilot model iX5 — a hydrogen version of its mid-size luxury SUV X5 — came to Korea's Yeongjong Island in Incheon on Tuesday for the “BMW iX5 Hydrogen Day” press event and let reporters take it for a spin.
 
BMW launched the iX5 pilot fleet in February after four years of development, and the pilot model is now hitting the road all across the world to garner experience before commercializing the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).
 
The Korea JoongAng Daily got behind the wheel of an iX5, colored white and speckled with blue “vapors” — not triangles — at the BMW driving center in Incheon.
 
BMW iX5 [BMW]

BMW iX5 [BMW]

 
The pilot hydrogen SUV was spacious enough for the 5-foot-11 reporter, in terms of both leg room and head space.
 
It offered a silent, smooth ride that is on par with other EVs currently available in the market. It also offered a head-rocking experience in acceleration and deceleration, in line with the official acceleration figure that says it can go from a standstill to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in six seconds.
 
Putting the pedal to the metal brought the speed up to 180 kilometers per hour, towed by a total power output of 295 kilowatts, or 401 horsepower.
 
And if the iX5 really does travel 500 kilometers with its 6 kilogram (13.2 pound) hydrogen tank that fully charges in three to four minutes, the pilot model does bring the advantages of both an EV and a combustion vehicle to some extent.
 
BMW iX5 hits the road at the BMW driving center in Incheon on Tuesday. [BMW]

BMW iX5 hits the road at the BMW driving center in Incheon on Tuesday. [BMW]

 
BMW is one of few carmakers eyeing the future hydrogen car market, along with Toyota and Hyundai. It acknowledges EVs as the mainstream green automobile but considers FCEVs as a more efficient choice in terms of both affordability and accessibility.
 
“Building a second infrastructure for hydrogen cars may be costly in the early stages, but having two infrastructures — for EVs and FCEVs — is cheaper than running only one,” according to Juergen Guldner, the general program manager for hydrogen technology at BMW.
 
More electric cars will require bigger parking garages with access to stronger power grids, which exponentially increases the cost of maintaining an EV ecosystem. Setting up the basics for hydrogen cars may cost more in the beginning, but the growth in cost is linear, Guldner said, citing a recent McKinsey report that compared the future maintenance costs for EVs and FCEVs in Europe.
 
BMW's general program manager for hydrogen technology Juergen Guldner speaks to reporters during a press event in Incheon on Tuesday. [BMW]

BMW's general program manager for hydrogen technology Juergen Guldner speaks to reporters during a press event in Incheon on Tuesday. [BMW]

 
“We will use all available technology to decarbonize our products and production,” he added.
 
The difference between an FCEV and EV is how the energy that powers the vehicle is stored. While EVs store energy in a battery like a smartphone, hydrogen cars store energy in a hydrogen tank like a combustion car.
 
Due to this feature, hydrogen cars may be an alternative for environmentally savvy customers who do not want to plan a family trip around stops to electricity power outlets once more hydrogen fuel stations are installed, according to the hydrogen technology lead.
 
BMW plans to commercialize FCEVs in the latter half of the decade by implementing upgrades based on the iX5 pilot fleet, the same strategy the carmaker took when commercializing its EVs.

BY SOHN DONG-JOO [sohn.dongjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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