Jaguar Land Rover is working on a prototype hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which it plans to start testing later this year, the company announced. Credit: Jaguar Land Rover.

To hydrogen, or not to hydrogen, that is the automaker question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind, to stick with electric cars and hybrids, and suffer the slings and arrows of unpredictable sales, or do take arms, against a sea of hydrogen media critics.

Well, you can count Jaguar Land Rover in on this hydrogen card game — the company announced it is working on a prototype hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which it plans to start testing later this year, The Verge reported.

The vehicle is based on its Land Rover Defender (under a project called ZEUS, for zero and low-emissions vehicles in urban society), and the company says it will focus its testing on “key attributes” such as fuel consumption and off-road capabilities.

The FCEV is part of the company’s strategy to achieve zero tailpipe emissions by 2036 and net zero carbon emissions across its supply chain and operations by 2039.

Fuel cell electric vehicles generate electricity from hydrogen to power their electric motors, and Jaguar Land Rover considers them complementary to battery electric vehicles, the report said.

Jaguar Land Rover FCEV technology.

“We know hydrogen has a role to play in the future powertrain mix across the whole transport industry, and alongside battery electric vehicles, said Ralph Clague, head of the company’s hydrogen and fuel cells division.

The tech behind FCEVs makes them “ideal for larger, longer-range vehicles, or those operated in hot or cold environments,” Jaguar Land Rover said in its announcement, as the vehicles “provide high energy density and rapid refuelling, and minimal loss of range in low temperatures.”

Other carmakers have announced plans to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles:

  • Toyota said in April that its electric vehicle strategy would include 70 new models by 2025, including hydrogen fuel cell models.
  • And even though Honda discontinued its Clarity EV last year, the company says it plans to continue to make a hydrogen fuel cell version.
  • And in January, General Motors announced a partnership with trucking firm Navistar and hydrogen fuel cell company OneH2 that includes plans for a fleet of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell trucks.
  • The French-made retro-styled Ineos Grenadier might have a future variant powered by Hyundai fuel cells. And Hyundai’s global R&D chief suggested last year that hydrogen fuel-cell tech is better for big pickups and SUVs that need to tow. 

The company’s executive director of product engineering, Nick Rogers, has underscored that there’s real potential in the project for something large in the automaker’s lineup, the report said.

“It’s absolutely really, really important; we truly believe that hydrogen has a real place and opportunity, particularly in the bigger vehicles,” said Rogers in an interview with Green Car Reports.

Large SUVs otherwise need to be fitted with such massive battery packs that you encounter “diminishing returns,” he suggested, just to achieve the driving range that luxury vehicle buyers expect.

“You’re in a space where unfortunately, you’re making the cars so much heavier, that you’re then using so much of that energy just to cart that heavy weight about.”

The company’s release also stated that fuel-cell vehicles’ high energy density and rapid refueling, with minimal range loss in low temps, make the tech ideal for larger, longer-range vehicles or those in hot or cold environments, GCR reported. 

The US doesn’t yet have a robust fueling infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles, however; while there are 39 hydrogen fueling stations in California and a few in Hawaii, only a handful of stations are open along the East Coast so far.

Europe, on the other hand, is planning big things — although at present, infrastructure

Industry association European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB) has proposed building a 11,600km hydrogen transportation network by 2030, which would expand to 39,700km across 21 European countries by 2040.

Sources: The Verge, Green Car Reports