Can German Automakers Boost Hydrogen Car Outlook?

The Frankfurt Motor show really demonstrates how serious Europe is in its pursuit of zero-carbon vehicles. Not green, zero carbon. In the transition to EVs there are still some pretty major bets on the future of hydrogen cars and I rarely see this topic being covered so let’s cover it briefly.

While Toyota’s Mirai is the first mass production hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle, Germany car makers are also quite impressive. But can Hydrogen Cars compete in a world full of EVs and new EV companies?

According to Reuters, BMW is leading the way for hydrogen-fueled cars as the automaker is planning to offer a mass-market model towards 2030. BMW also intends to change hydrogen policies in Europe and China. Under a project partly supported by the German government, BMW has already developed a hydrogen prototype based on the X5 SUV.

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  • Battery power may be the frontrunner to become the car technology of the future, but major German automakers such as BMW and Audi are not ruling out the underdog hydrogen.
  • The sector in Germany supports tens of thousands of jobs in Germany and exports are vital to the whole country’s economy.
  • Global auto hub Germany is in sharp focus. It is already betting billions on hydrogen fuel in sectors like steel and chemicals to meet climate targets.

BMW is hydrogen’s biggest proponent among Germany’s automakers, charting a path to a mass-market model around 2030. The company also has one eye on shifting hydrogen policies in Europe and in China, the world’s largest car market. The problem is China will be the leader in EVs with so many companies making some pretty great ones when they consolidate pushed by the Chinese State to go global.

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Volkswagen Group’s Audi is another player in the hydrogen cars market as the company has assembled a team of more than 100 to work on hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen can power the trucks of the world’s biggest truck makers such as Daimler, Volvo and Hyundai. The reason behind this is the fact that batteries are too heavy for long-distance transportation of goods. On the other hand, hydrogen fuel cells require a lot of investment due to their technical structure.

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The barrier to entry for hydrogen is just too high for the next 15 years or so. Hydrogen is viewed as a sure bet by the world’s biggest truckmakers, such as Daimler unit Daimler Truck, Volvo Trucks and Hyundai, because batteries are too heavy for long-distance commercial vehicles.

Yet fuel cell technology – where hydrogen passes through a catalyst, producing electricity – is for now too costly for mass-market consumer cars. Cells are complex and contain expensive materials, and although refueling is quicker than battery recharging, infrastructure is scarcer.

I understand Germany is trying to boost its image in the world, but with the rise of China in EVs this will be difficult to do realistically even if VW is better managed than GM or Ford. Rivian or Lucid are not very well understood and will face significant competition in a somewhat backwards ecosystem of the U.S. relative to the EU and China.

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