Rolls-Royce released its first series-produced EV, the Spectre, in 2022, and the brand plans to launch additional battery-powered models in the coming years. It’s not closing the door to other powertrains, however, and it’s notably open to experimenting with hydrogen fuel cells.
“Why not? I would say so when the time is right for us, and when the technology is so much advanced, that it is definitely something we would pursue as Rolls-Royce. Why not? We might exit batteries, and we might enter into fuel cells,” company boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös told British magazine Autocar. He stopped short of revealing whether engineers are currently testing hydrogen fuel cell-powered prototypes.
It’s too early to tell whether Rolls-Royce would develop a hydrogen fuel cell on its own or whether it would source some of the drivetrain’s parts from parent company BMW, which has dabbled in this technology for decades. BMW notably began building an X5-based, hydrogen-powered prototype called iX5 in 2023, and it plans to ultimately funnel the feedback it gathers by testing the model into a production car.
Müller-Ötvös has already ruled out building a car powered by a hydrogen-burning engine, however.
“I think a hydrogen combustion engine is nothing I would in any way look into, because that was tested already years ago. This is not the most efficient way to use hydrogen. If hydrogen will be used in the future, then it’s fuel cells. And fuel cells are nothing different from a battery. It is just how you get the energy,” he told Autocar, referring to the hydrogen-burning 7 Series prototype tested by BMW in the 2000s.
Rolls-Royce, like nearly every brand looking at hydrogen technology, warns that the infrastructure needs to improve before the fuel cell can merge into the mainstream. “You can’t obviously have hydrogen charging at home, whereas [with EVs] you have one big advantage, and all of our clients have big garages. There is lots of space at home and there is lots of space in office buildings to install charging,” the CEO said.
As it stands, Rolls-Royce wants to sell only electric cars by the end of 2030, and it hasn’t announced plans to launch a series-produced hydrogen-electric model. It’s not unreasonable to assume that this outlook could change during the second half of the 2020s, however. BMW boss Oliver Zipse told Autoblog that he predicts the industry will experience “a scarcity of raw materials [needed to build EVs] if we continue to ramp up production” in 2027 and 2028, and that hydrogen could be a solution because the drivetrain requires a smaller battery pack.