JAGUAR Land Rover is reportedly launching a large-scale hydrogen research project that could result in a fuel-cell SUV by the end of this decade.
The project, which is called Project Zeus, is reportedly working on a timescale that coincides with a planned revamp of the Range Rover Evoque in the mid-2020s, before fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) iterations of larger SUVs appear by 2030, according to Autocar.
This represents something of a diversification of JLR’s alternatively-fuelled portfolio, which has thus far centred around pure electric vehicles (also called battery electric vehicles, or BEVs). The Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV was released in 2018 to widespread praise, including from Richard Porter in the Sunday Times Driving recently.
Further models are undergoing battery electrification, including the Jaguar XJ executive saloon and the Range Rover. Plug-in hybrid versions of the Range Rover, Evoque, Sport and Land Rover Discovery are already available.
It has been noted that Land Rover’s offerings specifically, which pride themselves on practicality, could illustrate well the benefits of FCV powertrains — that is, an energy-to-weight ratio that eclipses that of battery-electric vehicles, as well as superior range and speedier recharging. However, Hydrogen carries an even bigger price premium than pure-electric, and Range Rovers, for example, are not cheap as they are.
JLR’s product engineering chief, Nick Rogers, also said in an online event recently that the company will soon release a driveable concept car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, and that it saw investment and research into the powertrain as “really, really important”.
He is quoted in Autocar as saying: “We’re looking for the right propulsion systems – ones that see minimum interference to the environment. With hydrogen, we believe there’s a key place. We’re developing and investing in that, and we’re getting great support to do that.”
Project Zeus was announced back in June when the government announced that it would invest £73.5m in green technologies, which would benefit companies including JLR, Ford Technologies, BMW Motorsport and the London Electric Vehicle Company (which manufacturers the electric black cab).
At the time, the government reported in a press release that: “Working with Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems and UKBIC, the project will deliver a zero tailpipe emissions premium fuel cell SUV concept with Jaguar Land Rover attributes, such as long range, quick refill, towing, off road capabilities and low temperature performance.”
However, the report this morning is the first indication of time scale and the first inkling of what models in JLR’s lineup could be affected.
It has also been predicted that JLR could use the Jaguar and Land Rover brands to explore either side of the hydrogen vs battery debate, with the more battery-applicable Jaguar continuing down the electric route while Land Rover acts as the guinea pig for FCV tech.
However, for any mass-production model to be successful, bigger investment would be needed in hydrogen infrastructure across the world. ZapMap shows just 14 hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK (with none in Northern Ireland) and there are less than 200 across Europe. That’s compared with an estimated one million electric charging plugs across the globe, with the number doubling over the last three years.
The use of hydrogen has already been realised in long-haul transport such as lorries, which are unsuitable for pure-electric powertrains due to their more limited range. Hyundai shipped the world’s first hydrogen HGVs (heavy goods vehicle) to Europe back in July. Toyota has also teamed up with five Chinese companies to intensify its own FCV technology.