BMW hasn't ruled out licensing its hydrogen-electric technology

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BMW has historically licensed its engines to a diverse list of manufacturers; the Bertone Freeclimber, the McLaren F1, the Morgan Plus Six, and the Ineos Grenadier are all BMW-powered. The company told Autoblog it's open to licensing its upcoming hydrogen-electric technology.

"We would if we could, but this is not the time to discuss that," BMW boss Oliver Zipse told me on the sidelines of the iX5 launch.

Still at the prototype stage, the hydrogen-electric drivetrain that BMW is putting in a small handful of X5-based test mules consists of two storage tanks, a fuel cell, a small lithium-ion battery pack, and a rear-mounted electric motor sourced from the iX. The system's total output checks in at 401 horsepower in the iX5, it delivers about 313 miles of driving range, and its tanks can be refueled in a couple of minutes.

Hydrogen's future is up in the air; some companies are investing in the technology, like BMW and partner Toyota, while others are steering clear of it. BMW believes hydrogen-electric cars can merge into the mainstream later in the 2020s, and if that assessment is accurate many of its rivals may be caught off-guard. Mercedes-Benz hasn't publicly announced plans to release a hydrogen-powered GLE, for example.

"We deliver combustion engines to other manufacturers. It's not only a few, it's quite a lot; it's a business model. That's because we have superior technology that we built up over decades ... and that is true for any technology. It could be for autonomous driving components, for example. So, the possibility is always there, but it must make sense. We don't do it just for the sake of it," Zipse explained.

Similarly, Zipse didn't fully rule out letting other brands in the BMW Group use the core company's hydrogen technology.

"We will use any opportunity, but you must always fit it to the brand. The brand fit is one of the secrets of the success of BMW. You cannot do everything just because the technology is there; there must be a solid brand fit. Currently, talking about hydrogen, that fits best to BMW. That does not mean that the other brands, whether it's Mini, Rolls-Royce, or the M brand, will never see it. I think it's a very good starting point."

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