Help me make the most of my time in the hydrogen-powered driver's seat
September 21, 2007 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Next week, I'm going to have an extraordinary opportunity: I get to test-drive the BMW Hydrogen 7 in New York City. You can bet I'll be doing a ton of background research on the car over the weekend, but I'd love your ideas and tips about what to look out for and pay attention to during my joyride.

I don't have a background in engineering or chemistry, so I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions you might have for what I should keep in mind as I'm driving, and any good questions you can think of for the car's handler (who will be in the passenger seat watching me very, very carefully).

I'm meeting the car in lower Manhattan and have an hour with it- my current plan, if approved by the car babysitter, is to make my very first destination the Brooklyn Bridge for the sake of sentimentality and aesthetics. That said, I've never driven a car in the city, so if you have some thoughts on what might make for a better route please share!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Technology (16 answers total)
Best answer: Floor it at least once. Please. Make sure it has the get up 'n go of a regular car. This might be tough in Manhattan, but you can manage.

Ask what happens if it gets Ford Pinto'd.

Don't make any Hindenburg jokes.

The vehicle will be (roughly) the same inside. It'll have hydrogen artwork and such, and maybe a prius-like computer or gauge system, but the only thing that's really different is the fuel storage, delivery system and engine and exhaust system. That is to say, unfortunately, it won't fly or anything.

Pay attention to the noise the engine makes, or lack thereof. See if it's different from an internal combustion or a diesel.

Look for a tach, see if the redline is the same as a regular engine.

Ask what the top speed is.

Enjoy yourself.
posted by disillusioned at 11:43 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ask where the hydrogen came from and how much it cost to produce it, both in terms of money and in terms of environmental cost, including carbon emissions to create the hydrogen. And ask how that compares on a per-mile basis to a gasoline car with similar performance attributes and size.

And ask if BMW is working on developing cheap and clean processes for producing hydrogen or if they're just making the car and hoping that somebody can make hydrogen practicable.
posted by The World Famous at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes. Right now most Hydrogen requires a lot of natural gas to produce, and is the equivalent of $30.00 per gallon. /rant However the future is not now, and in the future They'll be pulling hydrogen out of thin air and it will cost next to nothing. Just like Nuclear reactors are today. clean cost efficient and dotting the landscape...where am I France? /rant
posted by Gungho at 12:00 PM on September 21, 2007

Ask how clean the exhaust is... if just water, can you drink it? How does it smell? If you dare - taste?

And yes, please floor it. I'd be curious to know how quick the acceleration is kicked off at higher speed, like 50 or so. I.e. a turbo where there is a pause, or instantaneous, etc.

See if you can squeal the tires. Floor it with the brake on and then let the brake go. This won't check the above though.

Try to stay in a lower gear at higher revs the whole time and see how fuel economy is. How far will a tank of "gas" get me?
posted by jwells at 12:01 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Did BMW have do anything to the 7 series (weight distribution) to accomodate the extra 550 pounds?

The driver is able to switch from hydrogen to gasoline mode manually by pressing a button on the multifunction steering wheel. Because engine power and torque remain exactly the same regardless of the mode of operation, switching from one mode to another has no effect on the driving behavior and performance of the BMW Hydrogen 7.

Get it up to a good speed and see if their claim holds.
posted by junesix at 12:08 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ask how fast the hydrogen boils out of the tank when you're not using it. "The problem is that it can boil off half your fuel in eight days."

Ask how this is better than a electric/gasoline hybrid, and how much truck space is given over to the hydrogen tank. (Note: you should be able to charge up an electric/gasoline hybrid at home, if you have the right model / tinker with it.)

Ask how they transport the hyrdrogen (tanker trucks, I think), and how they source it (natural gas, I think).

Ask what shops are certified to work on it - i.e. are you screwed if it breaks in the middle of your road trip?

Ask if the whole "hyrdogen initative" is just another handout to the energy industry.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Escape! And take it to watkin's glen so it can be properly tested like a bmw should.
posted by milinar at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2007

Response by poster: Don't make any Hindenburg jokes.

I was waiting for someone to say it!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:14 PM on September 21, 2007

Best answer: First off, have fun, it's definitely an experience I hope the rest of the country gets to have one day.

Some things you should try/ask:
- switch the vehicle from gasoline operation over to Hydrogen operation while he is driving. From what I hear it is seamless and very cool.
- ask how the hydrogen fueling process happens / what makes it different than the normal gasoline pumps we peons use.
- ask about the H2R, their hydrogen race car. It broke a number of records. (Or at least research them beforehand.) Fantastic looking vehicles.
- BMW has been working on hydrogen cars since the '70s. Ask your co-pilot if he/she can talk about the history of those test vehicles.

Other than that's it's standard 7 Series fare.

Disclaimer: I used to work for BMW NA. Never drove the hydrogen though.

posted by Lizc at 12:40 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd be interested in how many smart-person-hours they've put into studying the feasibility of a home electrolysis system to make the fuel, and what their current thinking is on how much that would cost and how much it would produce.

(Making hydrogen from, say, solar electrolysis is easy, but outputting liquid H2 in useful quantities, from an affordable installation... then it becomes an engineering challenge again. You might get glib assurances that all that sort of stuff is in the works and will be wonderful, but you want to ask them about what the limits and drawbacks are, rather than end up discussing how good it might be in their wildest of unrealistic dreams :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should read this thread, and maybe send a private message to Jonathan. He's a really approachable guy, and I'm sure he'd be happy to answer any questions about the hydrogen 7-series or make suggestions about what you should examine during your test drive.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2007

Response by poster: . You might get glib assurances that all that sort of stuff is in the works and will be wonderful, but you want to ask them about what the limits and drawbacks are, rather than end up discussing how good it might be in their wildest of unrealistic dreams :-)

That's just it. The basic reason why I managed to get this gig is because the good folks at BMW think I am more important, influential and wealthy than I am. I think these test drives are a way for them to get the word out about the car to people who are both interested and affluent enough to buy them, and who will immediately go home and send a mass email to their affluent friends and colleagues urging them to put in their order. So I'm wary of getting just a warmed-over advertising pitch full of pie-in-the-sky assurances and best case scenarios, and that's why I wanted to get a better sense of how to ask revealing and critical questions that would get past the marketing buzzwords that I am undoubtedly going to be fed.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2007

Would it be possible to drive a standard BMW 7 series beforehand, allowing for comparability? Perhaps a quick jaunt down to the local dealer?
posted by Atreides at 2:03 PM on September 21, 2007

Best answer: The obvious question is "how/where do I get H2 for it?"
To which the obvious answer is likely either [direct] "you don't. For the near future you'll usually run it on gas, but as more H2 infrastructure will be put in place you be able to take advantage of it" or [salespitch] "we currently have many locations around the country and are in the process of setting up much more by the time the car goes on sale"
To which the counter question is "Where/how would I fill the tank with H2 if I owned one right now".

I would suspect that there will be some kind of specialist or not-really-public H2 source for experimental govt fleets and that sort of thing, and that owning an H7 would give you access too. And that this arrangement is supposed to suffice until infrastructure appears in more average gas stations.

If they filled up the car from their own supply (as opposed to basing the test drive from the H2 facility) then there's a bluff to call:

Ask them where the H2 station is, then that's the destination for the test drive - going to get the H2 tank filled, to find out firsthand what it is like to use hydrogen infrastructure.

You'll find out if there is a perpetual queue (if it's the case that one station is supplying a small experimental fleet), you'll find out if it is a hassle, or if it's a non-pulic facility that wouldn't give you the time of day if the sales person hadn't pulled some kind of rank, or if their gas nozzles don't match the car's socket, or if it's physically difficult to do the filling process (or if someone with training is on-hand to do it for you), all that stuff.

If they say that there is no point filling it up because they just filled it, well that's just demanding for some pedal to the metal to burn through a bit of gas on the way to the filling station :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:06 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Read Joseph Romm's The Hype About Hydrogen - but probably after you've driven it. It would be too depressing to read before.
We have an H2 filling station in Toronto, but it's a bit far ...
posted by scruss at 4:48 PM on September 21, 2007

Driving such a large car outside of necessity is stupid. Who cares what fuel is involved.

I suffered a stupid streak for a while, owning a 750i, until I realised that my other stupid obsession, golf was the only reason I owned a car.

I can't give up golf so I've gone as small as reasonable for transport to and from the course. Otherwise, public transport gets me everywhere else.

When the day arrives, show up at the curb with several large pieces of luggage. Put them in the boot. Bring along three full sized adult friends. Put them in the car. Drive randomly around the city including an unexpected shop for the evening's dinner. Then ask to refuel on the H2.

Ask how the technology and infrastructure is going to improve.
posted by michswiss at 5:12 AM on September 22, 2007

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