Driving a Hydrogen 'Eco-Luxury' Car

Technology Review's David Talbort drives the new BMW Hydrogen 7 sedan and finds it an impressive engineering achievement, but concludes that the jury is still out on how environmentally-responsible it is.

Published: 14-Nov-2006

Last week, I was part of a group of journalists who were the first to drive the production-ready BMW Hydrogen 7 car in Berlin. The dual-fuel car, which can switch between gasoline and hydrogen combustion at the press of a button, is indisputably a remarkable engineering achievement. And yes, it mainly emits water vapor. If only things were that simple; if only hydrogen were actually practical as a fuel.

BMW has been producing hydrogen-combustion prototype cars for several years. The company is also working on hydrogen fuel cells for electric-drive cars, but it found it couldn't get the same engine power that's possible when the hydrogen is combusted. ("You get a car, but it's not a BMW," sniffs Thomas Melcher, head of power-train engineering for BMW.)

Now, BMW is touting a version that has gone through rigorous product-development steps and could, in theory, be mass-produced. In practice, however, the company will make only 100 of the cars and begin renting them out next year to carefully selected and as-yet-unnamed people in a massive global publicity drive.


Unveiled at the 2005 Fuel Cell Seminar, the standard-sized bus uses a hydrogen-fueled, hybrid electric fuel cell instead of a combustion engine.

Hydrogen fuel cell prototype marks next step toward emissions-free cars.

No matter the path, analysts say, the burgeoning auto demand from fast-developing countries like China, India and Brazil is forcing carmakers to look seriously beyond gasoline and diesel fuel. Hydrogen fuels this Mazda RX8 sports car.


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