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Quick drive of the Passat HyMotion hydrogen fuel cell hybrid

Volkswagen unveiled the Golf Sportwagen HyMotion hydrogen fuel cell hybrid research vehicle demonstrator yesterday at the Los Angeles Auto Show (earlier post). Volkswagen has also built several research vehicles based on the US version of the Passat using the same hydrogen drivetrain components as fitted in the Golf SportWagen HyMotion.

The fleet of Passat HyMotion vehicles is currently being tested on the streets of California. In addition, Volkswagen brought a pair of the hydrogen Passats to the Los Angeles Auto Show for test drives (and Audi brought a pair of its A7 Sportback h-tron hydrogen fuel cell plug-in hybrids for drives, as well.)

Passat HyMotion in LA. Click to enlarge.

The drivetrain and MQB. The mechanical underpinnings for the Passat and Golf HyMotion cars are based on the Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) that was developed by Volkswagen and is used throughout the Group. (Earlier post.) The key drive components of the Golf SportWagen HyMotion were developed by Volkswagen Group Research in Germany.

The 100 kW fuel cell system (also applied in the A7) has a system power of 100 kW. The concept car has high-voltage 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack (from the Jetta Hybrid), which stores the kinetic energy recovered from regenerative braking; assists in the starting phase of the fuel cell; and adds a dynamic boost to the maximum acceleration of the Golf SportWagen. The fuel cell and battery power an electric motor adapted from the e-Golf.

Cutaway powertrain animation from Volkswagen shows the elements and the operating flow very clearly. Click to enlarge.

The drive components (motor, two-stage 1-speed transmission) of the HyMotion are in the engine compartment of the car as are the hydrogen fuel cell stack; the cooling system; a tri-port converter that regulates the voltage between the electric motor, the fuel cell and the lithium-ion battery; and the turbo compressor. The latter ensures that oxygen from the surrounding air flows into the fuel cell.

Top: Drivetrain. Middle: Fuel Cell Stack. Bottom: Under the hood of the Passat HyMotion. Click to enlarge.

The power electronics, which convert the direct current (DC) into three-phase alternating current (AC) which is used to drive the motor, are located in the center tunnel. The power electronics also integrate a DC/DC converter, which converts energy from the high-voltage battery to 12 volts to supply the 12-volt electrical system. The high-voltage lithium-ion battery, which has its own cooling circuit, is mounted close to the trunk and rear suspension. The 12-volt battery is also mounted at the rear.

Two of the total of four carbon fiber composite hydrogen tanks are housed under the rear seat and the other two in the luggage compartment floor. The hydrogen is stored in the tanks at a pressure of 700 bar (10,150 psi).

The battery is housed above the rear suspension, and the tanks are mounted in the vehicle floor. With the packaging of the drivetrain elements, the interior offers the same amount of space as in other versions of the model.

Driving the Passat HyMotion. The Passat HyMotion is, well, basically a Passat with its roomy and comfortable cabin. Starting up is a simple matter of pushing the start button.

At start, the fuel cell has not built up enough electrical power to drive the motor by itself. The Li-ion battery steps in and supplies energy to the electric motor instead, allowing the car to move off.

The only indication (aside from the display) that the fuel cell engages is the sound of the blower. Although audible, it is low; turning on the climate control fan to the first level obscures the sound. Looked at another way, the sound of the fuel cell in operation is no more distracting that having the HVAC system running in the cabin.

Top: The Energy Flow display clearly shows the flow from and to the different powertrain elements. Middle: At start, energy will only be flowing from the battery (top, blue) to the motor. Bottom: On recharge, energy will flow from the fuel cell through the tri-port converter to the battery. Clicking on an element opens up a new screen with more detailed operating information. The number at the center is the range remaining. Click to enlarge.

At this point, the Passat is a fully electric car—but with a range of more than 300 miles. It exhibits all the benefits of electric drive: smooth and quick acceleration from a stop, quiet, and zero toxic emissions. In the stop-and-go of LA downtown rush-hour traffic, it was never jerky, and allowed us to dart into gaps with ease then pull quickly away when there was a chance.

The control software for the HyMotion is more akin to that of a combustion-engined hybrid than that of a battery-electric vehicle as it entails more balancing between primary power source (fuel cell or engine) and the secondary (Li-ion battery).

The battery is recharged either through regenerative events or via the hydrogen fuel cell.

Futures. Our quick drive of the Passat HyMotion highlighted the benefits of an all-electric zero emission vehicle (ZEV) drive applied in yet another model type, and the display of the range and tank fill stage together were extremely satisfying (long range, lots of fuel, fast refill). The same could be said, though, for a Passat equipped with very high energy density future batteries (along with a very fast DC charger).

Dr. Neußer (left) and Dr. Hackenberg (right) explaining at the fuel cell technology workshop. Click to enlarge.

As we noted in our write-up of the three Volkswagen Group hydrogen fuel cell prototypes yesterday, the Volkswagen Group isn’t yet calling either hydrogen fuel cell technology or all battery-electric vehicle technology a clear winner. In a workshop on Fuel Cell Technology presented by Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Member of the Board of Management for Technical Development at Audi and Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neußer, Member of the Board of Management at Volkswagen responsible for the Development Division, Dr. Hackenberg observed that:

Fuel cell technology is running in competition with long-range battery electric vehicles. We don’t know which technology will be the winner.

Dr. Neußer observed that the Group still expects an inflection point in fuel cell technology and adoption not before the year 2020, but that it was demonstrating with these concepts that the company will be ready to launch when all the other issues surrounding hydrogen adoption (production, refueling) have been addressed.

Volkswagen Group is also investing very heavily in battery development, and as a company is aggressively developing and introducing variants of battery-powered drivetrains (for example, the e-up!, e-Golf and Golf GTE from Volkswagen, with a Passat plug-in hybrid announced; the Cayenne and Panamera E-Hybrids and the 918 Spyder for Porsche; the Audi A3 e-tron, with a plug-in hybrid R8 and a pure electric R8 E-tron in the works, to name a few). Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen recently said that he sees “great potential” in solid-state batteries, which possibly could boost EV range to as much as 700 km (435 miles), representing a volumetric energy density of about 1,000 Wh/l. (Earlier post.)

And Dr. Neußer earlier this year projected that the Volkswagen group by 2015-16 will boost battery energy density from the current 25-28 Ah to 36-37 Ah, providing a range of around 300 km (186 miles). Dr. Neußer also said that the company is working on the next step to around 60 Ah, which will be achieved with a “completely new” chemistry, and will come at the beginning of the next decade. This could provide range on the orders of 500-600 km (310-373 miles), he suggested. (Earlier post.)

But, getting back to Dr. Hackenberg’s comment, they don’t know for sure.

With is modular strategy (MQB for transverse application, MLB for longitudinal applications, etc.), Volkswagen is strategically positioning itself to be able to provide whatever advanced low- or zero-emission drivetrain is demanded (or required) in its high-volume vehicles. The MQB-based Golf, for example, could have gasoline engine (TSI), diesel engine (TDI), battery-electric drive (e-Golf), natural gas, plug-in hybrid (GTE) and hydrogen fuel cell (HyMotion) versions produced “bumper-to-bumper” on the assembly line.

Electrified drive systems in the MQB. Click to enlarge.



Many thanks for awesome coverage, by far the best on the web.

On reflection it seems that VW are happy enough that they can get the cost down enough to be practical, even with 4 CF tanks, or at least don't mention cost concerns.

Instead they talk about hydrogen supply and infrastructure, although of course they have a lot of cost to take out and improvements in fuel cells to make, most notably perhaps in precious metal use and durability.

Bring it all on, I say!
Better batteries, better fuel cells, and may the best technology win!


Audi/VW have beautiful engine compartments, they take pride in the layout and appearance. IMO fuel cells will always be a bit expensive, they got the platinum content down, but you still have hundreds of cells and each cell costs.

These are nice announcements, Audi/VW have not said much up until now, they have maintained a low profile but kept working in the engineering labs. Good for them, they knew 2015 was going to be show time and they got there.


The VW Group seems to have developed common H2 drive train that could easily be fitted in 12+ of their vehicles.

As battery and FC technologies evolve, VW could mass produce both BEVs and FCEVs to satisfy a broader range of customer needs, about the same way they do with gasoline and diesel ICEVs.

Both technologies could co-exist, specially with the near future increased production of intermittent REs and associated H2 large storage units.

The VW Group could join Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and California to establish a comprehensive early H2 station network on the West Coast, in Germany, So Korea, China and Japan.

Other manufacturers, Sates and countries could join in latter.

Bob Wallace

Cost per mile to drive.

That's the critical thing here. If FCEVs can't be operated for considerably less than ICEVs while costing more how are economies of scale reached?

There may be some advocates willing to pay a premium to both purchase and operate a FCEV. But are there the 100,000 to 500,000 numbers it takes to create real price drops?

Then, assuming there's some way other than large scale manufacturing to bring purchase price down to ICEV level, why would someone purchase a car that costs more per mile to operate than another option?

(Don't look to "greenies". H2 from reformatted NG isn't green.)


In Europe we are miserably failing to hit nitrous oxide emission targets, mainly due to diesel especially in cities.
In some respect European countries are like US states, as we have delegated powers to the centre.

If countries don't hit targets, they will incur enormous fines.

The costs of hydrogen don't have to be better than petrol and diesel per mile, just 'near enough' as they burn completely cleanly.

Since these cars get very good miles per gallon equivalent, they will be.

Not everyone will be driving a BEV, regardless of whether advocates think they ought to be.

Bob Wallace

Let's set advocacy aside.

Work the numbers for FCEVs with their H2 from reformed methane.

(That will help with nitrous oxide but not with CO2 emissions. The H2 really needs to come from renewable electricity but that would be more expensive.)

Work the numbers for EVs charged with renewable electricity.

Advocates may buy a few EVs or FCEVs simply because they are advocates, but the vast majority of the market is going to respond to cost.

As I read this article

Toyota is saying that at first it will cost 17 cents per mile to drive a FCEV. (300 miles for $50.) And that cost may eventually drop to 19 cents per mile. (300 miles for $30.)

Toyota also says in that article that it will cost 3 cents per mile to drive an EV. (300 miles for $9.60.)

And to add a bit of perspective, driving a 50 MPG ICEV on average priced $3.50 per gallon gas costs 7 cents per mile.

3 - 7 - 10 - 17. Which do you think most people would choose?


FCV are a bridged to continue using hydrocarbons for fuel and keeping oil companies in the transportation game.



Fuel costs are a small part of the cost of ownership of a new car, with depreciation the overwhelming factor.

It is people who buy new who count in the market.

The notions of saving huge amounts on fuel costs are also based at least on Europe on eternal exemption from the costs of motor vehicle tax.

One way or another, as soon as there are substantial numbers on the road, that will be clawed back.

So in the UK at the average of ~10k miles a year, mpg of 8 miles a litre, and fuel at £1.20 with 60% of that tax, then 1250 litres cost £1,500 of which £900 is tax and £600 fuel.

Electricity costs ~£0.15kwh, so at 4 miles kwh at the wall that is £375

Saving for the year with equal taxation £225.

People are not going to fool around driving to charging points if they can't charge at home for that sort of money.

However the economics is worse than that.
If the batteries add £5000 to the cost of the car, then depreciation on them might come to £500 pa, so the electric car loses money.

I fully support the electrification of transport, but it won't save the individual lots of money, it is the subsidies doing that.

People are not going to accept more inconvenient solutions to save a couple of hundred a year.


I should add that if the car is bought on finance, the economics are even worse as the interest on the additional £5,000 has to be added to the extra depreciation.



Reforming natural gas and using it in a fuel cell or generating electricity to power a BEV takes around the same amount of gas.

So it would seem that the gas industry is unlikely to be bothered either way.

Of course large amounts of coal is used to generate electricity so they presumably should be heavily in favour of battery electric cars, as it is not used for hydrogen production at all.

Both electricity and hydrogen can be made using non-fossil fuel resources, and both are, with California for instance mandating one third of transport hydrogen to come from renewables.


One of the factors in making electricity with heat engines is cooling. Power plants take a LOT of cooling which requires a LOT of water. So when you calculate total cost, consider all factors.


Future Solar to H2 converters will produce lower cost clean H2 in huge quantities for automotive and fixed FCs.

Posters worry too much about the current higher cost of H2. Clean H2 may very well become competitive or cheaper than gasoline or ethanol in about 10 to 15 years from today.

Using unlimited solar energy to produce all the clean H2 required for fixed and automotive FCs is the proper thing to do to get off Coal, Oil, Bio-fuels and NG.

It is people who buy new who count in the market.

Resale value starts counting in just 2 years, when vehicles start coming off-lease.  If the used-car market puts a low value on costly-to-run FCEVs, how long will the new-car market stay strong?  Especially when insurance companies pay off based on used-car values?

Something like a Tesla is going to have value for a long time, and the improvement in batteries means that a refurbished car can be better than new.


@EP said:
'Something like a Tesla is going to have value for a long time'

I think you may have picked a bad example for a BEV, judging by the failure rate in drive train units.

Would you buy a car with that failure rate if it was off guarantee?

Why do you think that FCEVs will have high failure rates, when the technology is more developed, as durability does still need improving?

They are far more reliable than diesels for emergency power supplies.


Nobody mentioned "failure rate" until you did.

Attempting to change the subject is as good as admitting that you lost the previous argument.

Bob Wallace

I checked resale prices for 2011 Nissan Leafs and Toyota Camrys. About the same based on mileage.

Fuel savings for a 13,000 mile driver is about $1,200 a year. ($3.50 gas and 12 cent electricity.) Add some more in for oil changes and higher maintenance costs for the Camry.

The MSRP for the Leaf is ~29,010 and $21,510 after federal subsidy. The MSRP for the Camry is $22,970.

The Camry is a bit larger, but if you're someone who is considering a Leaf then you're probably talking a commute and errand car, not a long trip car for the family. And I would expect the driving experience of the Leaf somewhat better.


" good as admitting that you lost the previous argument."

Policies for Sustainable Mobility has become a "gotcha" argument where only one can win. I think the creator of this site meant for it to be a forum for discussion, not where every comment is dissected and criticized.


All that seam unfortunately very costly. The main hope remain in a discovery to produce hydrogen from water at low cost. If the hydrogen remain pricy and the fuelcell car remain pricy than where are we going with that. I tell you, the future of an energy renaissance remain on a discovery to produce plenty of hydrogen at low cost from water. If not than my goddam ice car will cost more and more to fuel and pollution will rise and someday we gonna hit a barrier where there is no more petrol to use and my car which is a bland economy car will lose all of his value and will be worth the price of the metal and it will amount to 1 dollar and foods and gas will cost 500$ for a meal and 500% for a gallon of gas.

Bob Wallace

gor - you can purchase a EV right now and drive for about 3 cents a mile. Over 30 miles for a dollar.

If you need more range than the current moderately priced EVs provide then look at a PHEV.

Most drivers could be doing 85% to 100% of their driving on cheap electricity. And EVs will grow range and become more affordable as we go along.

Roger Pham

If you're concerned about reducing fuel consumption and help save the environment within a limited budget, what you can do now is trade in your Neon for a Prius 2004-2009. You will pay just a few thousands $ more, perhaps $4,000-5,000 more, instead of $20-25,000 USD more for the Leaf, or $30,000 more for PHEV's like the Volt, but you will get a much more reliable car in the Prius vs the Neon. I heard that you've gotten quite a few problem with the Neon, even though it got few miles than my Prius.

My Prius got well over 100,000 miles without any repair nor any dealer service whatsoever, just oil changes, filter changes, and tire change. Not a single glitch. Rock-solid reliability. The interior and the paint are almost new. The battery will last for another 100,000 miles because it still hold charges very well.

Your mpg will jump from 25 from the Neon to about 50 mpg for the Prius. Do not think negatively. You can drive the Prius for another 100,00--150,000 miles for another ten years, saving a lot of fuels and helping the environment greatly, then you will be ready to own a used PHEV or even a used FCEV at much more affordable cost.

Roger Pham

Furthermore, gor, I use only synthetic oil for my Prius, and so far, the engine runs like new, ultra smooth, without any oil consumption after each 5,000-7,000-mile oil change interval. No piston slap with cold start! MPG has not change since new. Very impressive quality and reliability!



That's almost what we did with our 3 new Toyota HEVs (2 Camrys and one Prius). So far, they have been 100% trouble free. Of course they consume a bit more with winter tires in cold weather and snow but we average close to the advertised for the rest of the year..

We have been using Toyotas for many years and have always been satisfied. Quality cars.

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