MUNICH -- Battery power may be the frontrunner to become the car technology of the future, but major German automakers such as BMW and Audi are not ruling out the underdog hydrogen.
Both automakers are developing fuel cell passenger vehicle prototypes alongside their fleets of battery cars as part of preparations to abandon fossil fuels.
They are hedging their bets, calculating that a change in political winds could shift the balance towards hydrogen in an industry shaped by early-mover Tesla's decision to take the battery powered road to clean cars.
Global auto hub Germany is in sharp focus. It is already betting billions on hydrogen fuel in sectors like steel and chemicals to meet climate targets, and closely fought elections this month could see the Greens enter the coalition government and further push the technology.
BMW is hydrogen's biggest proponent among Germany's automakers, charting a path to a mass-market model around 2030. The company also has one eye on shifting hydrogen policies in Europe and in China, the world's largest car market.
The BMW brand has developed a hydrogen prototype car based on its X5 SUV, in a project already partly funded by the German government.
Jürgen Guldner, who heads up BMW's hydrogen fuel cell car program, told Reuters the brand would build a test fleet of close to 100 cars in 2022.
"Whether this (technology) is driven by politics or demand, we will be ready with a product," he said, adding that his team is already working to develop the next-generation vehicles. "We are on the verge of getting there and we are really convinced we will see a breakthrough in this decade," he said.
Volkswagen Group's premium Audi brand told Reuters it had assembled a team of more than 100 mechanics and engineers who are researching fuel cells on behalf of the whole VW Group and had built a few prototype cars.