Four car models with fuel cells and hydrogen drives were once on offer in Germany - but currently only two of the vehicles can be ordered in this country
Photo: Max Jackwerth
If you want to know how many hydrogen cars there are in Germany, you have to look a little longer in the official statistics.
The Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) does not list the alternative drive in the overviews of new registrations and existing ones.
The number is far too small for that, according to the authority.
Only if you work your way through the model lists will you find out: A total of 507 hydrogen cars are registered in Germany.
That is the equivalent of 0.001 percent of all cars in this country.
The figures show that the fuel cell is in a difficult position in the German auto industry.
While Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW are throwing numerous battery-electric models onto the market, hydrogen continues to eke out a niche existence.
There are around 18,000 fuel cell vehicles around the world, most of them in Asia and the USA.
Companies from the Far East are pioneers in this technology.
In Europe, too, the auto industry is under great pressure to save CO₂.
Such models could also help to reduce emissions in traffic here.
Hydrogen can be produced from green electricity and water.
The vehicles have a fuel cell on board in which hydrogen is converted into electricity.
It drives the car's electric motor.
It only emits water vapor.
But the German manufacturers struggle with the drive.
It is too expensive and too complicated, there are too few petrol stations.
That sounded very different.
Between 1994 and 2002 Mercedes presented five prototypes and a small series based on the A-Class with fuel cells that ran on hydrogen.
BMW presented the BMW Hydrogen 7 model in 2006.
The Bavarians dispensed with a fuel cell, and fed the liquid, -253 degrees Celsius cold hydrogen from the special tanks of the car directly into the combustion engine.
There the hydrogen was set to explode and the pistons moved in the conventional way. A charming idea - but one which, due to the highly complex hydrogen storage at extreme temperatures, was so remote that it was not pursued any further.
Only three models on German roads, two of them for sale
Modern hydrogen cars have a fuel cell and tanks in which gaseous hydrogen is stored.
High-pressure tanks are now being used in which the hydrogen is stored at a pressure of 700 bar.
In Germany, there are currently only three car models of this type on the streets, of which only two types are still available.
Here is the overview:
Photo: Toyota / dpa
Toyota Mirai: the market leader
With 12,000 cars sold, the Toyota Mirai is currently the best-selling fuel cell model worldwide.
The tank holds five kilograms of hydrogen.
According to Toyota, that's enough for a little more than
500 kilometers of driving with one filling
The car has been available in Germany since 2015.
At the beginning of 2019, 138 Mirai were registered in this country.
In the meantime, according to Toyota, the number has increased to a good 300 copies.
Less than 30 copies are in private hands.
The main reason for this is the high price.
The Mirai currently costs
just under 80,000 euros
The Mirai models are mainly used by municipalities, mayors and companies.
The second generation of the Mirai is due to hit the market in 2021.
Then with an additional hydrogen tank, so that a total of six kilograms of hydrogen can then be stored in three tanks.
This increases the range to
almost 700 kilometers
Photo: Uli Sonntag / Hyundai
Hyundai Nexo: the challenger
The Korean manufacturer Hyundai has already launched two hydrogen models in Germany.
Initially the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell from 2015, then its successor Nexo since 2018.
The Nexo's three hydrogen tanks can store 6.33 kilograms of hydrogen.
The range according to the NEDC standard is
around 750 kilometers
The electric motor of the Nexo has an output of 120 kW (163 hp), the base price of the hydrogen SUV is
Around 250 Nexo models have been approved in Germany so far.
Hyundai pursues a stringent fuel cell strategy.
The company plans to produce 700,000 fuel cell systems annually by 2030, it was recently announced.
However, they should not only be used in cars, but also in drones, ships and commercial vehicles.
Mercedes GLC fuel cell
Mercedes GLC F-Cell: The German attempt
Mercedes was the first German manufacturer to launch a small-series hydrogen car: the GLC F-Cell SUV.
In addition to the fuel cell, the car also had an externally chargeable lithium-ion battery, so it is actually a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
The hydrogen Mercedes was never
, only a
rental offer for 799 euros
a month was advertised.
However, the offer was only aimed at a few business partners and politicians.
The two high-pressure tanks of the GLC F-Cell took a total of 4.4 kilograms of hydrogen, which
In addition, up to 50 kilometers came from the 13.5 kWh lithium-ion battery.
In April 2020, Mercedes announced the
end of the fuel cell car project
The production of the GLC F-Cell has been discontinued.
As reasons for the end after two years, Mercedes cited the low number of hydrogen filling stations and high technology costs.
The gas station argument is somewhat surprising, because 85 of the around 400 hydrogen filling stations worldwide are located in Germany.
Only in Japan is there more.
"The potential of fuel cell technology and hydrogen as an energy storage device are beyond question. Nevertheless, the battery is currently superior to the fuel cell in terms of a large-scale market launch," said Mercedes at the request of SPIEGEL.
The fuel cell at Daimler has not become obsolete.
It is to be tested in a joint venture with the Swedish manufacturer Volvo for use in heavy-duty trucks.
Is there anything else coming?
Anyone who currently wants to buy a hydrogen car in Germany can ultimately only choose between two models: Toyota's Mirai and Hyundai's Nexo.
If you want to drive a German hydrogen make, you won't find anything.
After all, Audi and BMW still refer to the fuel cell as "another pillar in the future drive portfolio".
Audi is currently "in an evaluation phase of how the specific first-time deployment plan for the fuel cell drive will look in the future," according to Ingolstadt.
In 2014 the company presented the Concept A7 Sportback h-tron-quattro, but since then things have become quiet about fuel cell technology at Audi.
BMW is apparently a few steps further.
The carmaker plans to launch the i Hydrogen Next fuel cell car in small series in 2022.
The car will be based on the X5 SUV model and the electric machine will be carried over from the BMW iX3.
Probably Honda will also keep an eye on the European hydrogen market in the coming years.
The Japanese manufacturer has already developed a fuel cell car: the Clarity Fuell Cell sedan.
However, it is currently only sold in the United States and Japan.
When asked, Honda's focus will be on battery-electric vehicles until at least 2022.
After that, however, according to a company spokesman, something could happen in terms of fuel cell cars in Europe.
After the big breakthrough, none of this sounds like it again.
Icon: The mirror