Make way for the zero-litre car

Joachim Milberg
says that we must now decide on how to drive into the future and outlines how to enter the hydrogen age.

What kind of fuel do we wish to use – or, more appropriately, will we have to use – to ensure our future mobility? This question is certainly not new: people in many countries the world over have been discussing it for years. But in the end the debate must lead to a conclusion. The BMW Group has made its decision. The time has now come for politics and business in general to make their decision too.

There can be absolutely no doubt that hydrogen is the fuel of the future. Companies and politicians in many countries agree on this obvious point. But harmony of opinion as such is not enough. Rather, we must now draw the necessary conclusions from this general consensus, and take specific steps to implement the hydrogen age. We need a strategy for establishing the necessary infrastructure, and one for introducing suitable vehicles to the market. The sooner we take these steps, the better.

Humankind already uses nearly a quarter of its primary energy for transport and the lion’s share of this comes from fossil fuels. But the world’s supply of fossil fuel resources is inevitably coming to an end: either through lack of availability or though strict policies deliberately limiting the supply of petroleum. Another factor is that carbon dioxide emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles are claimed to have negative consequences for our climate.

All this presents a great challenge for the automobile industry. It is no longer enough for a car manufacturer to offer the customer attractive products. Rather, we must work to maintain individual mobility without recourse to fossil energy sources, and to secure the same standard of mobility for generations to come.

We must realize, in particular, that there is nothing to be gained from appealing to people to give up their mobility: human beings are simply not willing to forfeit the freedom they have come to appreciate. On the contrary, they will demand more and more comfort and safety in transport in the years to come. And they will also expect to get more enjoyment from driving.

But this is not just about satisfying personal needs. We must never forget that, above all, mobility is economically indispensable.

It goes without saying that we are working consistently to reduce the amount of petrol and diesel consumed by our cars. But this cannot provide an answer to the question of energy in the future. We will not find a genuine, sustainable solution if we simply continue to enhance and refine our existing technologies – which are already highly developed and sophisticated – no matter how great the technological and financial effort involved.

Instead we need an entirely new approach. We need new technologies that allow us to take a quantum leap in developing an entirely different potential.

This is why the three-litre, the two-litre or even the one-litre car is not our answer. In terms of CO2 emissions, our answer is the zero-litre car, a car which does not consume petrol or diesel – the hydrogen car which we have already presented in a small production series following more than 20 years of painstaking research.

In May 2000 we unveiled a fleet of 15 hydrogen BMW cars in Berlin and it has been in every-day use ever since. We are proud of being the first car manufacturer in the world to develop such a fleet, taking it out of the laboratory and on to our roads.

We are all the more proud of this achievement because hydrogen is the best option for a sustained – that is economically, ecologically and socially balanced – development process. Hydrogen generated by solar energy is the cleanest fuel available. I dare say, therefore, that our hydrogen-driven vehicle may well become the most important innovation in the entire history of the automobile. After all, this innovation means that we are driving in a car powered by sunshine and water.

We set out on our carbon-free road to the future to provide a sustainable, long-term solution in the interest of ongoing mobility. But we also decided to take this totally new approach to illustrate that sheer driving pleasure and responsibility for the environment are not incompatible, but two sides of the same coin. People wish to maintain and further enhance their sheer driving pleasure, so they will buy cars that offer both these assets at the same time.

Both the fuel-cell car being developed by other manufacturers and our own hydrogen-driven combustion engine run on hydrogen. So establishing a fully fledged infrastructure for hydrogen is a top priority. We must now join forces to concentrate on developing it. The question of which technology will be adopted in our cars is secondary, since ultimately the market will decide on whether the fuel cell with an electric engine or the combustion engine running on hydrogen provides the right path to the future. Our opinion on this issue is clear.

The BMW Group believes in the hydrogen-driven combustion engine, since it alone is in a position to maintain the high standard of auto-mobility to which we have grown accustomed over the last 50 years of individual, personal transport. The only change is that in future we will drive with a different, clean fuel. This is at the very core of our CleanEnergy strategy.

The new BMW 7 Series will be introduced with a hydrogen engine in the last third of the decade. I am confident that there will be a significant number of new BMW cars with hydrogen engines on the roads of Europe and Japan by the year 2020. We realize that the process of converting our current energy supply system to a new hydrogen economy represents a huge upheaval. After all, we will need an entirely new infrastructure for generating, distributing and storing hydrogen. The conventional supply networks will gradually lose significance and will have to be replaced by new structures.

To make the costs of this process bearable and acceptable, this ‘revolution’ in our energy system requires the right political conditions and framework. We will only be able to achieve this enormous task promptly and without undue friction if business and politics agree on their targets and move together.

We appreciate that politics and the economy are making joint progress in Germany. But we must proceed on the global level. We need support from legislators worldwide to develop standard rules and regulations. We need similar support from different groups in society and public opinion leaders. The BMW Group is raising interest in hydrogen through its CleanEnergy WorldTour, and is getting positive worldwide feedback on the advantages of this new technology. We are confident of being on the right track.

The BMW Group, through new technology, has opened the gateway to a totally new kind of energy, which will ensure mobility in the years and decades to come. We made our decision. Now the decision on which way we want to go must become a joint one

Professor Joachim Milberg is Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Secure and sustainable | Fuelling multilateralism | Meeting growing needs | Make way for the zero-litre car | Power sharing | Oil and rising water | Energetic challenges | At a glance: Energy | Competition | Power to the people | Cutting carbon | Winds of change | Power and choice | Rising sun | Give us a wave! | Less energy, more wealth

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate and Action December 1998
Issue on Climate change December 1997
Gerhard Berz: Insuring against catastrophe (Disasters) January 2001
Shoichiro Toyoda: Driving Change (Transport and communications) June 2001

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Climate change
Air pollution