Land Rover has announced that a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Defender is in development.

We can expect road testing to commence sometime during 2021. Land Rover talked about its Reimagine Strategy in the final throes of winter this year just before spring, the ambitious plan being to create a ‘sustainability-rich’ reimagining of the Land Rover luxury range with ‘positive societal impact’.

Clearly the advertising jargon-speak has gone into overdrive here, but I suspect that this (roughly translated) means more eco-friendly plans without sacrificing the luxury expectations of its customers. A plan to hit net-zero carbon by 2039 and turning Land Rover into an all-electric manufacturing company by 2025 underlines this – or as LR put it: ‘to realise its unique potential’.

It’s interesting to hear, during a time when the constant clamour surrounding electric vehicles can become deafening, of a hydrogen fuel cell powered Land Rover Defender actually being developed. The Defender FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) will incorporate electric drive units and a powerful battery utilising regenerative braking and a fuel cell stack plus a high pressure hydrogen storage tank.

Land Rover are not exactly out on a limb here; in case you might have missed it, Ineos are also looking at hydrogen power for the potentially Defender-rivalling Grenadier, which has a 2022 model year version due in the not too distant future from the British chemical company. Ineos say that utilising the hydrogen fuel cell for the Grenadier fits in perfectly with the ladder-frame chassis.

It’s interesting that while Ineos plan on filling the much-loved void that the old-school Defender shape has left, both the new Defender and this ‘old’ Defender have decided to explore hydrogen power. Land Rover will be testing the pulling power of the Defender FCEV, though whether this is because Land Rover has some doubts about the ability of a full EV Land Rover to consistently pull the loads typical in its use as a utility vehicle without draining or putting too much strain on the battery has not been conveyed. More likely the company are simply exploring best-for-purpose options. Hydrogen already powers space rockets and various GM military vehicles; its use in extreme and tough specialist circumstances is proven.

Land Rover Developing Hydrogen Powered Defender

Right now, hydrogen fuel cell powered automobile availability is generally quite restricted, with Toyota’s Mirai, the Hyundai Nexo and the Honda Clarity being the only available options under the banner of the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. While FCEV downsides remind me somewhat of LPG from the recent past (while slowly growing, there is perhaps a current lack of infrastructure that will struggle to make FCEV viable for the general public) the upsides of hydrogen are fast refuelling and increased range, meaning less refuelling.

Another aspect to consider is temperature; Land Rover will be testing such vehicles with regards to extreme temperatures both hot and cold to see how FCEV compares to the traditional EV. Maybe the Defender’s reputation for having very few environments that it cannot cope with has necessitated such planned tests. Land Rover will be looking to various specialists like the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (fortunately shortened to UKBIC) as well as Marelli Automotive Systems to provide knowledge and assistance. The results of Land Rover’s testing should be very interesting – time will tell.

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