Eager to put its stamp on cars with green credentials, BMW announced Tuesday that it will roll out the world’s first hydrogen-burning car in serial production early next year.
Dubbed the Hydrogen 7, the specially equipped 7-Series executive cars emit only water vapor when running on hydrogen. That means zero emissions of pollutants and carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists tie to global warming.
"The complete change from a fossil fuel infrastructure to a hydrogen economy will require decades," the German carmaker said in a statement, but the Hydrogen 7 "shows that bringing hydrogen technology to the road is indeed feasible."
The car hits the market next April and will be shown at the Los Angeles car show in November, BMW said. It had said in March that the hydrogen cars would arrive within two years.
A spokesman said the car would be leased to selected customers rather than sold because of its high price. Leasing rates would be similar to those for a top-end BMW 760LI with a full-service package but BMW said specifics were not yet available.
"We have not yet finalized this," said BMW North America spokesman Andreas Klugescheid. "It will depend on the region the car goes to, the infrastructure, the service package and the profile of the user."
California could be a key market for BMW since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to build a "hydrogen highway" of refueling stations along major roads.
The Hydrogen 7 is powered by a 260 horsepower, 12-cylinder engine and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 9.5 seconds. The top speed is limited electronically to 140 mph.
BMW has said it intends to build a few hundred such cars at first. They will be able to switch between burning standard gasoline and hydrogen so that drivers will not be left stranded while the infrastructure to deliver hydrogen is built up.
That means both hydrogen and gasoline tanks — the former allowing a 125-mile driving range and the latter 300 miles. Drivers can switch back and forth with a button on the steering wheel.
"Because engine power and torque remain exactly the same regardless of the mode of operation," BMW said, "switching from one mode to another has no effect on the driving behavior and performance of the BMW Hydrogen 7."
Most carmakers experimenting with hydrogen are doing so with fuel cells that would use the energy carrier to create an electric power system. But BMW's path is to use liquid hydrogen in existing internal combustion engines since the infrastructure for fuel cells and refueling hydrogen is so limited.
The space that two fuel tanks take up means only the 7-Series will offer the hydrogen package at first. BMW’s long-term goal is to offer hydrogen motors in all its cars.
BMW unveiled the world’s fastest hydrogen-powered car at the 2004 Paris auto show. Dubbed the H2R, it can exceed 185 miles per hour and reaches 60 mph from a standing start in around six seconds.
GM shows off hydrogen Sequel
BMW's announcement comes on the heels of General Motors on Monday unveiling a driveable version of the Chevrolet Sequel, a hydrogen fuel cell SUV that it called "the most technologically advanced automobile ever built."
GM said the Sequel "is the first vehicle in the world to successfully integrate a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system with a broad menu of advanced technologies such as steer- and brake-by-wire controls, wheel hub motors, lithium-ion batteries and a lightweight aluminum structure."
The Sequel can go 300 miles before refueling, GM said, well beyond the industry standard of 150 miles. And it does 0-60 in 10 seconds, the carmaker said.
"General Motors is proving that advanced technology can remove the automobile from the environmental debate and reduce our dependence on petroleum," Larry Burns, GM's research and development vice president, said in a statement.
"Sequel fundamentally changes the DNA of today's automobiles," Burns added, "exchanging an internal combustion engine, petroleum and mechanical systems for fuel cell propulsion, hydrogen and electrical systems."