BMW AG, a long-time supporter of hydrogen technologies, takes the next step towards producing practical hydrogen-powered production vehicles with the introduction of the BMW Hydrogen 7.

Dubbed the first hydrogen-powered performance luxury vehicle, the Hydrogen 7 is based on the 760i sedan and is capable of running on either clean-burning hydrogen or premium gasoline.

Far from just another hand-made concept car, the Hydrogen 7 is a fully capable luxury vehicle that has undergone a product development process similar to any other BMW, the auto maker says.

The Hydrogen 7 also serves as a platform for BMW to perfect its hydrogen systems in the real world until a full-scale hydrogen infrastructure is realized.

Power comes from a 260-hp, 6L V-12 internal combustion engine that can propel the car from 0-62 (100 km/h) in 9.5 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h). Power output and performance are identical for either fuel source, BMW says.

The key to the dual-fuel nature of the Hydrogen 7 is what BMW calls the dual-mode power unit, which allows the driver to quickly switch between fuel sources at the touch of a button on the multi-function steering wheel.

Overall range is greater than 400 miles (644 km), with a conventional 16.3-gallon (74-L) gasoline fuel tank providing a 300-mile (483 km) range and a 17.6-lb. (8-kg), trunk-mounted liquid hydrogen tank offering an additional 125 miles (201 km).

Although the engine’s control system gives priority to hydrogen, it automatically switches over to gasoline operation when the hydrogen supply is depleted, BMW says.

When operating in hydrogen mode, the vehicle emits only water vapor out of its tailpipe.

In addition, the Hydrogen 7 offers up all the amenities one would expect in BMW’s flagship sedan, including high-end climate control; heated power seats; integrated ISOFIX child seat fastenings; park distance control; and automatic, soft-closing doors.

Externally, the Hydogen 7 is distinguished by a unique engine cover, Hydrogen 7 badging and illuminated doorsills.

BMW reportedly will unveil the car at the Los Angeles auto show in November, with select consumer availability beginning in April.

Only a few hundred units will be produced initially, Reuters reports.

As the Hydrogen 7 represents a significant investment for the auto maker, BMW will only offer leases on the vehicle to select customers in certain European markets (Germany, Italy and Belgium) as well as in the U.S., Japan and eventually China, where hydrogen stations will be available.

Lease rates will be similar to a conventional 760Li with a full-service package, BMW says.

The technical concept applied for the new hydrogen powerplant is, in principle, similar to the one applied to millions of cars in Europe and around the world running on liquefied petroleum gas or compressed natural gas. The difference is, in the Hydrogen 7, the fuel is not a by-product of oil but a clean energy alternative that can be produced from water and other renewable energy sources.

According to BMW, the launch of the Hydrogen 7 showcases the Bavarian company’s leadership in technology in the area of future-oriented drive systems and clearly serves as a milestone en route to an era of mobility independent of fossil fuels, not only for BMW, but for the entire automotive and energy industries, as well.

The car itself is not enough though. It needs hydrogen fuel to do its job properly.

In this respect, the Hydrogen 7 will feel at home in Berlin, (where BMW and Total SA have collaborated on the country’s first hydrogen filling station) or in Munich, where another such station is going to be opened at the time of the ceremony celebrating the launch of the first fleet of Hydrogen 7s.

– with Giancarlo Perini

msutton@wardsauto.com