Believe it or not, it's only been a few weeks since the Geneva Motor Show didn't happen and car companies were forced to reveal their important models in new and innovative ways. BMW's big story was the i4 concept Gran Coupé; but since then not only have things moved on unimaginably in the 'real world', in the world of BMW things have progressed too.
Whilst the German brand is pursuing battery electric cars first and foremost, it has been one of the few brands to maintain faith in hydrogen technology as part of a future fuel mix. Like other proponents of hydrogen, BMW believes that its approach is all about offering its customers choice, which it calls its Power of Choice strategy.
The powertrain itself is destined for the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT – effectively the hydrogen version of the forthcoming i NEXT battery electric car. Like equivalent fuel cell powertrains from brands such as Hyundai and Honda, the system uses a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in ambient air to generate electricity. This electricity runs through a converter to adapt to the voltages of the electric drive, and a 'peak power' battery – more of which in a minute.
Hydrogen is stored in a pair of tanks, arranged in a T shape within the wheelbase, which are pressurised at 700 bar and hold a combined six kilos of gas. Going off what we know from the likes of the Hyundai NEXO FCEV which holds 6.3kg of hydrogen, the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT should have a real-world driving range of more than 350 miles, and quite possibly closer to 400.
The bottom-line constant power of the i Hydrogen NEXT isn't exactly mind blowing at 168bhp, which is delivered by its fifth-generation eDrive unit. But BMW being, well, BMW, they have injected some dynamism in the form of a 'peak power battery' located above the electric motor. This can serve up additional poke – lots of additional poke – to give the powertrain a total output of 369bhp during heavy acceleration and overtaking instances.
BMW continues to work closely with Toyota on its hydrogen fuel cell endeavours, as it has done since 2013. Don't go thinking that it will be launching an X5 FCEV that you can buy from a showroom any time soon, though; the company acknowledges that cost remains prohibitively high for mass market adoption. Until it is close to price parity with battery electric vehicles, it says that applications that cannot be directly electrified – such as “long-distance heavy duty transport” remain the primary application.
Have a read of our feature about how hydrogen will contribute to our future mobility.
Announced during BMW's annual general meeting by Group CEO, Oliver Zipse, it is confirmed that the next-generation 7 Series will get an all-electric powertrain. For the first time, it will be available also in petrol, diesel and hybrid form using the CLAR platform upon which the current car is based. Zipse also suggested that the electric version would be the most powerful of the range.
Trumping the current range-topping V12 7 Series, which packs 601bhp, won't be too hard with the fifth-generation eDrive. Back in the middle of last year the brand showed off its 5 Series-based Power BEV demonstrator which, by dint of having three eDrive units, came with 711bhp and 7375lb-ft of torque (that isn't a typo).
We approached BMW for comment on the 7 Series, but it's still too early in the development cycle for them to provide more info than is already out there, so we'll have to watch this space. A sensible guess, however, is that the car will come along in 2022. What we do know for definite is that the next EV to be officially unveiled will be the iX3 – and it will be the first car to bring that all-important fifth-gen eDrive unit to the road.
Chris Overall, Media Relations Manager at BMW UK told us: The iX3 will be revealed later in 2020 and will debut BMW Group’s fifth generation electric drivetrain. Following iX3, the next all-electric models in the pipeline are BMW iNEXT and BMW i4. Both will come to market in 2021. By 2023, the BMW Group will already have 25 electrified models on the roads – more than half of them all-electric.”
One unknown at the moment, not only for BMW but also for every other EV maker investing so heavily in R&D, is how the current situation will impact these timelines. We hope that the effects are minimal – not just for our own output of news and comment, but also because of the impact on people involved and furthering of BMW's green aspirations.
As mentioned in our recent opinion piece, the uncertainty of the impact of Coronavirus on EV development is the most difficult thing for everyone involved at the moment. Large manufacturers like BMW are as equally affected as anyone else.
It's interesting to see BMW's approach to hydrogen fuel cell technology in comparison to other major protagonists like Hyundai, Honda and even its partner in technology, Toyota. BMW sees hydrogen as a potential 'fourth pillar' of its future powertrains, but is being much slower – or possibly much more pragmatic – when it comes to rolling it out. Its argument that the fuel makes more sense for powering heavy vehicles holds a lot of water given the research we have done into the topic.
We're massive fans of BMWs here at Discover EV, so an electric 7 Series is very tantalising, especially given how much we enjoyed the current 745LE PHEV. With Jaguar developing an all-electric XJ and Mercedes inevitably heading in that direction with the S-Class, it's exciting to see these traditional rivals once again heading for battle!