BMW/Toyota vs Tesla: Hydrogen vs Pure EV

Interesting, Others | July 7th, 2015 by 17
BMW i8 hydrogen fuel cell images 04 750x500

Ever since the creation of the i Division, BMW has become Tesla’s main competitor. No other company is accelerating its alternative fuel program lately like …

Ever since the creation of the i Division, BMW has become Tesla’s main competitor. No other company is accelerating its alternative fuel program lately like BMW and Tesla. Until now, that is. Toyota seems to be getting into the mix, and it seems to be siding with BMW. BMW has long been a proponent of plug-in hybrid and hydrogen technology, rather than full on battery-powered EVs. Tesla, and its eccentric owner, Elon Musk on the other hand have been fighting hard against such vehicles, claiming that pure EV is the only way to go. Well, Toyota seems to agree with BMW’s hydrogen ideas, as it has just developed the Mirai, the world’s longest range zero-emission vehicle, to put its money where its mouth is.

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The Mirai is a fully electric propulsoon vehicle, just like the Tesla Model S, but instead creates its electricity via hydrogen fuel-cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen to create the electricity. The Mirai also has an EPA-estimated 312 mile range on a single tank, compared to the Model S’ 270 miles of pure battery range. The main difference, however, is that the Mirai can be refilled with hydrogen in minutes and be back on its way, whereas the Model S needs a couple of hours to fully recharge. This hydrogen technology found in the Mirai is being utilized by both Toyota and BMW, as both companies believe that this is the way of the future “The Mirai is now poised to usher in a new era of efficient, hydrogen transportation,” said Jim Lenz, Toyota’s North American CEO.

It’s not hard to see why Lenz, as well as the rest of Toyota and BMW, would feel that way. Hydrogen is very cheap, in comparison to gasoline, emits zero pollutants, can be refilled in minutes and is the most abundant element in the universe. So it seems as though hydrogen cars are the perfect answer to all of our problems.

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Musk, however, has been an avid opponent of such technology, even going as far as to call hydrogen “so bullshit”. He does have some valid arguments against hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cells, at the moment, are very expensive to create and so is creating the compressed hydrogen. Electricity is also easier to harness otherwise, as it can come from solar power, wind power or from the grid. But by far the biggest argument against hydrogen fuel-cell cars is the infrastructure. At the moment, hydrogen fill-up stations are as few and far between as electric ones, probably even more so, actually. So if you have a hydrogen-powered car, you can refill in minutes so long as you can find a station. Thus, range anxiety is still an issue.


However, in hydrogen’s defense, EV charge stations aren’t exactly everywhere, either. It’s not as if they’re as common as a Starbucks. The infrastructure can be created and is expanding rapidly, but hydrogen refill stations can be developed just like charging stations were. The only issue with complaining about the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen refill stations is that even if EV charge stations become extremely common, they will still take far longer to get you back on the road. A hydrogen refill station works much like a current gas station, so it seems like the infrastructure for hydrogen would be easier to create. EV charge stations need to be placed extremely specifically so as to allow for coordinated charging over long journeys. They also need to be placed near strip malls or attractions, so drivers have something to do while they wait.

Related: BMW i8 with Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Both technologies have their pros and cons. BMW and Toyota both feel that pure battery-powered EVs are the final solution, but acknowledge their technological shortcomings are too great at the moment and that hydrogen fuel cell-powered EVs are the right intermediate answer. Tesla feels that spending time and money on developing such technology and infrastructure, only to tear them both down again for battery-powered EVs, is a waste. It’s easy to see why each company is doing what they’re doing, but we don’t know who is right. What we do know is that the new Toyota Mirai will give us a much better look into hydrogen fuel-cell technology and how effective it is at replacing gasoline in our day to day lives.

17 responses to “BMW/Toyota vs Tesla: Hydrogen vs Pure EV”

  1. Hustlin says:

    You completely left out the fact that pure EVs can be charged in your garage and you can leave home fully charged everyday. 250 miles per charge is more than enough for your daily driving

  2. James says:

    BMW is not leading with hydrogen at all. BMW has full lineup of PHEVs and EVs in pre-production. Toyota has NO plans for ful lEV except in China where they are being forced to offer an EV.

    Article implies that Toyota is following BMW when in fact BMW is (foolishly but hedging their bets) following Toyota development. BMW has no hydrogen cars in pre-production (smart)
    “Hydrogen is cheap” not at all costs same as gasoline

    “Hydrogen” is most abundant element in the universe” – Yes but not on earth (where we live). Hydrogen does not occur naturally on earth in any form whatsoever.
    –Just more time wasted on a technology that will never make it out of the lab or the 200 Mirais that they will not be able to give away.

  3. kevinmeyerson says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote:

    “…pure battery-powered EVs are the final solution…”

    The critical difference between BMW/Toyota and Tesla/Nissan/GM/VW/Fiat and others coming out with BEVs is the estimates on how long it will take for BEVs to totally dominate the market.

    Personally, I think the BEV market is developing far faster and will dominate by 2022.

  4. iDriver says:

    Not sure where the sudden hydrogen-hype on BMWblog is coming from – BMW has not made any official statements recently about hydrogen cars as far as I am aware of?

    In any case, it is important to get some of the facts right and to rectify some of the hydrogen-myths referred to in the article.

    1. Hydrogen is not cheap to refuel – not even when compared to gasoline, and certainly not when compared to electricity. Current hydrogen that can be taken at the few public stations is all made from methane (steam reformation). This is currently the cheapest way to produce hydrogen and costs about $ 50 to fill up the Mirai ( for 300 miles. Even Toyota has recognised that this is more expensive than gasoline and that there will hence be no savings at the pump to consumers from switching to hydrogen. According to the Ecomento article, the average fuel cost for 300 miles in the US was $ 44.50 and for a Toyota Prius it was just $ 21. Electricity to charge a BEV is much cheaper. The Tesla Model S would cost (for 300 miles equivalent) between $ 3.50 and $ 9.60 (depending on rates) to charge overnight in the US. And that is for a 7 seat sport sedan. Hydrogen from clean sources, eg wind-based electrolysis, costs several times more to produce than using methane. As a result, the end user cost is even higher than the above figures.

    2. Hydrogen vehicles are way behind in terms of development and usability compared with BEVs, so positioning this in the article as a bridging technology is complete nonsense. It would take at least 20-25 years for hydrogen vehicles to even come close to the same level of cost as BEVs in terms of production cost and on-going energy cost, as well as available refill infrastructure – and that is a very optimistic estimate assuming someone wants to invest billions if not trillions without a good business case (and then still they would not match energy efficiency or emission reductions of BEVs). Toyota again admitted that the Mirai costs about $ 170 K to produce per car, of which $ 50 K for the fuel cell stack. Compare that even with a Tesla Model S! This is also evidenced by the fact that there are no real series production hydrogen cars available (Mirai and Hyundai Tucson are both limited production cars). BMW can produce BEVs with long range batteries for a fraction of that cost already – if they want.

    So pushing this kind of “hydrogen is the panacea” kind of argument does not hold if one is intellectually honest. What it does however, is confuse consumers about when is the right time to abandon ICE cars and switch to zero emission alternatives. Joe Public interprets this as “be patient for a few more decades and then we will have the perfect solution” and in the mean time just stick with ICEs.

    If BMW (like Toyota) is unable to come up with state-of-the-art BEV cars at a competitive price and with a sufficiently long range, then it should either admit failure or rethink its tactics. There is no excuse anymore on the technology or cost side. If BMW is tied to Samsung for batteries and they cannot deliver better products in time, then other suppliers should be considered asap – like other car manufacturers have done already.

    The hydrogen-hype comes across to me as a final desperate attempt to push this technology and to slow down the development of BEVs. The upcoming launches of longer range BEVs by several car brands (except for BMW/Toyota), will reduce the hydrogen prototypes to a delaying tactic in hind sight. Longer range BEVs will not need to recharge during 99% of trips, whereas the hydrogen prototypes will have to look for a station every 300 miles (whereas ICEs now have to do that every 500 miles but at least they can find them!)

    • EverConsideredThis says:

      So you think that all those BMW, Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, Merc engineers are pure idiots when they are spending billions of building FCEVs?

      • iDriver says:

        The engineers are merely executing the orders they get (no offence – i am an engineer myself). Same holds for the engineers that spent their time on 3D TV sets.
        The decision to work on fuel cell technology is in my view driven mainly by political and short term profit arguments. It is not a coincidence that Germany and Japan both have governments that are quite favourable towards hydrogen to say the least. Also incentives/pressure from the fossil fuel industry is part of this game (it would be a nice way to sell natural gas at higher prices than to generate electricity where it has to compete with ever cheaper alternatives).
        The short term profits from ICEs are at stake and incumbent ICE producers are afraid to jump on the EV bandwagon as they expect thinner margins. So a strategy of delaying this evolution could provide billions of extra profit in the short term. So that is why they can afford delay tactics with fuel cells, bio-diesel, e-gas and other recent initiatives that have not gone beyond micro-pilots and marketing hype.
        The investment in fuel cell technology has in any case not been that big yet as none of the major car brands has set up mass production lines for such cars. That is when real capital investment kicks in.

        • scd says:

          I think hydrogen fans somehow think that hydrogen car means basically petrol car and their favoured status quo can continue, without realising that it is actually an EV with a range extender.

          I struggle to find any other explanation for the pro-hydrogen/ anti-BEV hype.

          It is like saying the i3 ReX is the TRUE future and the BEV i3 is a boondoggle.

          Hydrogen and BEV are the same car if you are a driver, only on a systemic level is there any difference. (long range arguments irrelevant since filling up with hydrogen takes 5-ish minutes, tesla supercharger 20 minutes – not a deal breaker either way)

          • jeffhre says:

            Hydrogen takes 10-ish minutes, if the stations are upgraded to consumer levels and there is a large enough buffer to serve multiple vehicles. Right now there are exactly two of those, and they are located in California. If you are not the first in line expect 15 to 20-ish at that, for a process that cannot be duplicated at home.

    • jeffhre says:

      Articles came out yesterday claiming that BMW will increase the range of it’s EV. Perhaps as soon as the next model year. So this “The upcoming launches of longer range BEVs by several car brands (except for BMW/Toyota)” will have to be updated to (except for Toyota).

  5. talung2 says:

    Too much emphasis is placed on charging stations, I can count on one hand the number of times I need more than 250 miles in one day. What matters to me is home charging, the nightly rate is cheap and its full power every morning.

    Will hydrogen be available at home? If not, then that (I’m sorry, God awful looking) Toyota is not really a practical solution unless your city has stations near your home. I wouldn’t want to drive 20 miles just to fill up.

  6. Paul says:

    Toyota’s Mirai webpage shows that there are currently 3 hydrogen fill up stations open, all in the same community in California. 3. A quick review of the US gov’t alternative fuel page shows that there are a whopping 12 in the country. Compared to 10,000 EV charging points, not to mention that every home has electricity and the vast majority of “refilling” is simply done at home. All tech has to start somewhere, but it seems like hydrogen has a very, very long way to go.

    • Dr. Dean Dauger says:

      Add that Tesla has over 200 Superchargers in the US:
      One EV maker outdoes the entire hydrogen infrastructure by a factor of 16. A FCV still cannot make a trip across California, much less the country; Tesla did trans CA in 2012, across the US in January 2014. Hydrogen infrastructure is woefully behind, and FCV makers expect cash-strapped governments to pay to catch up? Ridiculous! BEVs will be entrenched long before that.

  7. tarawabrat says:

    ” It’s not as if they’re as common as a Starbucks. ”

    Way more common than Starbucks. Every house I’ve ever lived in has a 220 volt high amp socket for the clothes dryer never mind the 110 volt outlets that are literally everywhere. The only advantages hydrogen really has is sodium hydroxide is a byproduct if you make it from salt water (a really good carbon dioxide sponge) and it can be used with CO2 to make synthetic jet fuel so don’t be surprised if hydrogen gets some support from DoD.

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