Audi to Lead VW Group’s Fuel Cell Development

Audi Fuel Cell Concept - Cutaway

In the wake of the devastating diesel emissions scandal that rocked Volkswagen, many expected the company to shift its focus away from diesels and on to plug-in cars. While VW is pushing electric and hybrid tech, it has recently revealed plans to push forward with hydrogen fuel cell technology as well- and it will use the Audi brand to do so.

“I know there’s a big discussion ‘why fuel cells?’ if everything in the future will be [battery] electric,” said Audi’s new development chief, Stefan Knirsch, to a group of reporters at the brand’s new headquarters. “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.”

It’s a fair question, especially knowing the type of anti-fuel-cell backlash the move is likely to have in the comments sections of sites like Cleantechnica. Still, Knirsch believes that fuel cell vehicles have an advantage over fully electric cars because the much smaller battery found in fuel cell vehicles is not just substantially cheaper to build, but also far lighter- and less weight means improved vehicle handling and performance.


Audi Fuel Cell | It’s Coming

Audi Fuel Cell Concept - Dashboard Graphic

There hasn’t been a specific launch date announced for the upcoming Audi fuel cell vehicle, but one thing we do know: it will be a crossover-style SUV. “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,” explains Knirsch. “We will adopt a similar approach for fuel cell cars.”

Knirsch said Audi is already looking into the problem of procuring hydrogen as a means to cut off any anti-hydrogen backlash. Currently, Audi’s plant in Werlte, Germany, produces hydrogen through electrolysis, an energy-intensive method by which an electric current is run across two poles submerged in water, splitting the liquid’s molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Still, the company remains optimistic that new advances are coming. “We are certain that we will be able to offer hydrogen produced in a CO2-neutral way in the future,” Knirsch said.

What do you guys think? Will a hydrogen-powered product line from Audi help the brand overcome the diesel-induced black eye, or blah blah [insert something about the Hindenburg here] the humanity? Let us know what you think in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


Sources | Images: Audi, via Automotive News and Motorpasión.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.