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BMW i could have mass-produced hydrogen-powered cars on the road by 2020

BMW’s recently-formed i sub-brand currently focuses on building electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, but company executives have all but confirmed a hydrogen-powered car is on track to join the lineup by 2020.

BMW is not new to hydrogen-powered cars, and it has been dabbling in the technology since it launched the experimental Hydrogen 7 (pictured) in 2005. Powered by a 6.0-liter V12 engine capable of running either on hydrogen or gasoline, the sedan was essentially ready for mass production but BMW chose to only build about 100 examples because the technology was still in its infancy, and the infrastructure was nowhere near ready.

Company engineers are now using data gathered from the pilot program to fine-tune the technology, but a spokesperson has confirmed BMW’s first-gen hydrogen drivetrain will not find its way to a mass-produced car. However, its second-gen drivetrain — which will be developed in the coming years with input from industrial partner Toyota — will be brought to market, most likely in a vehicle that will join the i sub-brand.

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The project is still at the embryonic stage of development so it’s too early to provide precise technical specifications but rumors claim the next i3 could be offered with a hydrogen drivetrain at an extra cost. If the take-up rate is high, the hydrogen option could gradually be expanded to other members of the BMW lineup.

Track-tested?

As previously reported, BMW could put its hydrogen technology to the ultimate test by making a long-rumored return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Instead of racing in the top-spec LM P1 class that’s currently dominated by hybrids, the Munich-based automaker will likely field its racer in the non-competitive Garage 56 category, which is reserved for experimental cars.

A time-frame for the company’s Le Mans entry was not given, but it is expected to come a few years before the hydrogen-powered i3 goes on sale. That means that if the project gets the final green light for production, a hydrogen-powered Le Mans racer could arrive in 2017 or 2018.