The Neue Klasse platform could be far more versatile than we ever imagined.
In recent years, BMW and Toyota's relationship has mostly made headlines for the extensive parts sharing between the BMW Z4 and Toyota GR Supra. But the two companies share interests beyond these two sports cars, that being hydrogen technology. Both brands think that hydrogen's benefits should be explored, which is why Toyota sells the Mirai and BMW revealed a hydrogen-powered X5 in 2019. With the iX5 Hydrogen prototype set to launch in 2023, we now have further confirmation of when BMW customers can walk into a showroom and order one for themselves.
Sales chief Pieter Nota told Nikkei that BMW will begin mass-producing and selling fuel cell vehicles as early as 2025. The iBMW X5 Hydrogen forms part of a joint development process with Toyota.
CarBuzz also uncovered patent filings that support BMW's mass adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology, which you can read more about below.
"We see that hydrogen fuel cell technology is particularly relevant for larger SUVs," said Nota. "We have various projects we work on with Toyota," he continued, hinting at more fuel cell vehicles besides the iX5 Hydrogen. Nota underlined the value in continuing to utilize different powertrains, be it pure EVs, efficient gas-powered cars, and hydrogen models. The company doesn't want to place all its eggs in one basket, especially since charging infrastructure for EVs varies widely from one market to the next.
The advantages of hydrogen power include the ability to be refueled in three to four minutes, far quicker than even the fastest-charging EVs.
Although the iX5's range is unknown, it has two tanks of about 13 pounds each which is said to make long-distance travel possible. In most other ways, the iX5 is expected to be similar to the conventional X5, one of BMW's top-selling vehicles.
Toyota itself is also forging ahead with hydrogen power and is said to be working on a hydrogen-powered Corolla Cross. That's a particularly interesting move as the Corolla Cross is a cheaper, far more conventional vehicle than the Mirai sedan, indicating that Toyota wants to make hydrogen less intimidating for early adopters.
Together, these two automotive giants look set to lead the way for hydrogen as a viable fuel source as traditional gas engines are phased out.
Whereas FCEVs have typically adopted twin hydrogen tanks - in the case of the iX5, mounted in a T-shape within the transmission tunnel - the new patent (filed with the EUIPO and published on August 11) describes a configuration of multiple smaller tanks arranged parallel to one another in a flat arrangement beneath the floor pan of a vehicle.
An easily identifiable downside of this configuration would be what happens in the case of a side impact. Centrally-mounted storage tanks are out of the way and at lower risk of rupturing, but these flat-mounted tanks could be susceptible to damage.
Not so, as BMW has countered this by mounting each tank on a floating bearing, allowing the tanks to shift independently within their casing in the event of an impact by as much as six inches.
Compared to traditional FCEVs, this orientation would free up valuable trunk space, which is precisely the value of such an invention that BMW earmarks in the patent filings.
Importantly, we are in an age where platforms like the forthcoming Neue Klasse from BMW are being developed with multiple powertrains in mind. Technically, these EV-centric platforms leverage battery packs within the floor structure. BMW's new hydrogen storage system would effectively occupy the same space within the floor as the battery, making Neue Klasse not just capable of housing electric and ICE powertrains but hydrogen as well.
This design would be relevant at any time, but its publishing in such proximity to the announcement of mass-produced FCEVs supports the fact that BMW is ready for a hydrogen-powered future.