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Audi will lead Volkswagen Group in hydrogen fuel cell technology

There’s a large debate among car enthusiasts as to whether or not hydrogen fuel cell cars are worth pursuing. There’s one side of the argument which feels that pure BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) are the future and we shouldn’t spend time or money on hydrogen fuel as it’s just a stop-gap and slowing the inevitable. However, the other side feels that electric cars have significant drawbacks, including charge time and infrastructure, so hydrogen cars fit more in our current automotive world. It’s like the Sharks and the Jets except nerdier and there isn’t any singing or dancing.

Apparently, Volkswagen Group, Audi specifically, is leaning toward the hydrogen side, as the Four-Ringed brand feels that hydrogen is a perfect alternative fuel for right now. According to Stephan Knirsch, “I know there’s a big discussion ‘why fuel cells?’ if everything in the future will be [battery] electric: at some point there will be a charging infrastructure and the electric ranges will increase, so who needs fuel cell cars? But we don’t see it so black and white at the moment,”Knirsch also points out that hydrogen fuel cell cars require much smaller batteries than BEVs, making them less expensive to make and lighter.

Audi e-tron Quattro Concept
Audi e-tron Quattro Concept

It’s possible that we could see a hydrogen fuel-cell Audi by as early as 2018, as Audi recently debuted its h-tron Quattro Concept at the Detroit Auto Show back in January. The h-tron Quattro Concept is very similar to the e-tron Quattro Concept SUV Audi debuted back at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September and would be an SUV as well. “We chose the body style for battery electric since we got very clear feedback from our markets that is what they need to gain volumes (including fleets) and it’s also true that you can ask higher prices for such a car,” said Knirsch. “We will adopt a similar approach for fuel cell cars.”

At the moment, hydrogen fuel-cell cars can be quite expensive to make, something Audi is trying to fix. The Ingolstadt-based brand would like to reduce some of the need for precious metals, such as the platinum that’s used in Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell stacks. Knirsch knows that hydrogen costs need to come down if Audi wants to start actually selling them. “Naturally you cannot price them at 150,000 euros, unless you really don’t intend to actually sell them,” However, Knirsch is confident Audi can reduce these costs. “We are certain that we will be able to offer hydrogen produced in a CO2-neutral way in the future,”Audi h-tron quattro concept

Audi isn’t alone in this endeavor, either. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Honda are all aboard the hydrogen train, while companies like Tesla bemoan the alternative fuel. We’ll see how it pans out in the next couple of years, but it seems as if Audi is committed to hydrogen for the intermediate future and is the face of hydrogen for the entire Volkswagen Group.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.