Audi Joins Hyundai In Refocus on Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Audi is the latest carmaker to refocus on hydrogen fuel cell technology citing consumer concerns over BEV on top of sourcing raw materials for lithium-ion batteries.

Its chairman, Bram Schot, has committed the carmaker to accelerating its involvement in hydrogen as a viable alternative to battery technology perversely at the same time as France and Germany announced a plan to invest up to nearly $7Bn in battery technology. Schot says the company is doubts whether BEVs can fulfil ever-increasing consumer expectations in terms of potential range and he also alluded to the virtual monopoly enjoyed by China on the materials required to manufacture the batteries.

This means Audi will re-establish its dormant h-tron program, last heard from in January 2016 when the Audi unveiled the h-tron quattro concept. This will make it the primary hub for hydrogen fuel cell development inside the Volkswagen Group, of which Audi is a part. “We really want to speed it up,” commented Schot. “We are going to put more priority into hydrogen fuel cells – more money, more capacity of people and more confidence.”

This is a turn-around from Audi strategy up until now, with the company previously focusing on its e-tron range and development of electric motor and battery technology – it has put down $15.6Bn towards launching 12 BEVs by 2025. Ironically, the announcement coincides with this week’s unveiling of the European Battery Alliance’s initiative, that will be backed by the EU to the tune of $1.3Bn, committed to auto battery development in a bid to become less reliant on US and Chinese technology.

Later this year a sixth generation hydrogen fuel cell will be unveiled, Schot said, and a limited-volume pilot program Audi FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) may be offered to customers under a leasing arrangement by 2021. A timescale for volume production of the  vehicle has not been decided as of yet, however, but the company is hopeful this could occur during the second half of the next decade, Schot wrote in his announcement. The car is expected to be produced at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant in western Germany, near Audi’s base in Neuberg, on a dedicated line currently producing A6, A7 and A8 models.

While electric cars are selling more than ever, concerns remain from automakers that batteries cannot deliver on consumer demands. While a gasoline or diesel vehicle can refuel in a matter of minutes, an electric car can take more than half an hour using ‘quick charging’ technology and, even then, the batteries are not at full capacity. Audi’s h-tron quattro concept, meanwhile, took four minutes to brim the tank in 2016. Electric car range is also an issue, with top models managing under what petrol or diesel cars can manage on a single tank. Audi claimed the h-tron quattro concept had a range of 370 miles at its unveiling but, with the increasing development of fuel cell technology, this could change dramatically by launch.

Audi’s fuel cell development is a joint effort with Korean automaker Hyundai, with the two companies announcing a cross-licensing agreement in June 2018. The sixth-generation hydrogen fuel cell system, which Audi will officially announce next year, will also incorporate a charging plug, as part of a hybrid system. The car will feature a battery capacity of 35-40kWh, depending on the model, making it good for 93 miles on battery power alone.

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