Driving report Opel Vivaro-e Hydrogen: H2 as an alternative to electric drive

A hydrogen-powered fuel cell has repeatedly appeared to some people as an alternative to battery-only electric drive that is worth considering. In passenger cars so far it has remained a marginal phenomenon, because what most people understand as a “classic” electric car is simply much more efficient and cheaper from source to wheel. Charging electricity into the battery and using it directly promises less losses than the entire chain needed with hydrogen as an energy source. However, Stellantis has decided to offer an alternative to electric drive in the Opel Vivaro van. He was at our disposal for a first outing.

The goals that Stellantis has set for itself with the Vivaro-e Hydrogen are quite ambitious: a first production line is under construction in Rüsselsheim, where 1000 vehicles per year will roll off the assembly line. From 2024, strategists see the opportunity to sell 10,000 copies a year. So Stellantis doesn’t have the satisfaction of a small fringe group in mind here, but wants to make a profit with this model through quantities.

To some extent, two energy sources are combined: in the fuel cell, electricity is generated from hydrogen, which charges a battery with an energy content of 10.5 kWh. The electric motor uses this accumulation, which can also be charged externally. The electric drive itself is well known from various models of the Group: it has an output of 100 kW and offers 260 Nm. They can only be fully recalled if the battery is sufficiently charged. Since continuous high performance is not expected, the same fuel cell delivers 45 kW. This is sufficient for the maximum possible speed of 110 km / h.

On the go, the low continuous power is not a problem: the load peaks are reliably absorbed by the relatively large battery and the 100 kW electric motor. The Vivaro-e Hydrogen drives like a van with electric drive only. He moves calmly and with emphasis. The power reserves appear so abundant that the Vivaro will move fast even when charged. Nobody is unlikely to miss the hum of diesel engines common in this segment.

Opel’s plan to sell around 10,000 Vivaro-e hydrogen annually starting in 2024 looks decidedly bold. Opel currently puts the price of a fuel cell Vivaros at a factor of two compared to the battery-electric variant. “The goal is to bring the price down to the level of the BEV version,” says Lars Peter Thiesen, Stellantis Head of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Introduction Strategy. It is not known when this will be achieved. There are still too many imponderables, such as customer demand, part and production costs that are difficult to calculate.

Above all, there is a lack of infrastructure. A complete network of H2 filling stations would be extremely expensive and therefore not even remotely in sight. So Germany is in a good position with currently 95 petrol stations. A look at a map of the density of petrol stations in Europe shows that this is an absolute exception. In France there are currently four stations in the Paris metropolitan area, with two more planned in the south of the country. There are currently five H2 service stations in Austria. Rapid expansion nationwide is not to be expected, as even the most daring optimists have no hope of recovering the sizable investments soon.

Opel is installing a fuel cell in the Vivaro that runs on hydrogen. Alternatively, the traction battery of this line is so generously designed that battery-powered electric driving is also possible.

But even those who accept the expected price of the Vivaro-e Hydrogen and have one of the rare H2 filling stations in their usual daily radius will start thinking about running costs. A kilogram of hydrogen currently costs 12.85 euros in Germany. The Vivaro-e Hydrogen will need at least 1.5 kilograms of this per 100km in everyday life – after all, we’re not talking about an aerodynamic Toyota Mirai, but a van. This means that the owner has to deal with at least 20 euros of energy costs per 100 km.

To put it another way: a Vivaro with a diesel engine easily reduces these costs, even with current fuel prices. To some extent, it can be refueled at any corner, goes farther and faster, and, as a new vehicle, costs only a fraction of what it will have to pay for a fuel cell van. The driver of an H2-Vivaro should therefore not expect a cost advantage.

Opel boldly advertises that the Vivaro-e Hydrogen can cover around 400km with hydrogen in the WLTP. If you charge the small battery externally, you can add another 50km (also WLTP), which probably covers most of the range requirements. If not: the three hydrogen tanks in the underbody are ideally filled in three minutes. The battery can be fully charged in an AC charging station in approximately 90 minutes. An 11 kW three-phase charger as standard.

With the fuel cell, the Vivaro-e Hydrogen offers an alternative to known drives. The manners are undoubtedly very pleasant, but this plays a subordinate role in this segment. Currently, the H2 user has to swallow so many dollars that many are unlikely to choose this path. Because the Vivaro-e Hydrogen won’t be cheap, neither to maintain nor to buy. It can only be refueled with hydrogen at a handful of stations across Germany, while the situation in Europe in this regard is even more bleak. The fact that Opel is still putting this alternative into series production shows a lot of courage. Stellantis will also equip Peugeot and Citroën’s Vivaro alternatives with this boost in an effort to share costs.


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