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Hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender under development

This fuel-cell vehicle is expected to begin testing later this year in the UK.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
2 min read
2021 Land Rover Defender 90 - off road
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2021 Land Rover Defender 90 - off road

Internal combustion is great, but a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Land Rover Defender could be even better.

Ben Sanders/Roadshow

The new Land Rover Defender is one of the coolest SUVs you can buy today. With immense off-road capability and a design that's pleasantly retro, yet modern at the same time, this rugged vehicle looks right at home tackling the Rubicon Trail or trolling Rodeo Drive. Further burnishing the Defender's already impressive credentials, on Monday, Jaguar Land Rover announced it's developing a prototype model powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain.

A Defender motivated by one of these alternative-fuel drivetrains could be the best of both worlds. The SUV would emit basically no tailpipe emissions and likely deliver punchy performance similar to that of an electric car, but that's not all. Refueling could be accomplished in just a few minutes, like an internal combustion-powered vehicle, not require hours attached to a power outlet. Even though they aren't quite ready for primetime, there are real benefits to hydrogen fuel cells.

BMW fuel cell powertrain - hydrogen
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BMW fuel cell powertrain - hydrogen

Fuel cells, like this BMW design, are a little complicated.

BMW

But why build a Defender with such an advanced powertrain? Because Jaguar Land Rover has ambitious climate goals. The automaker is gunning to eliminate tailpipe emissions by the year 2036 and, across its entire business, achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2039, objectives spelled out in its new Reimagine Strategy.

The fuel cell-powered Defender being worked on is part of a plan called Project Zeus, which aims to develop and popularize hydrogen-powered vehicles, as well as advanced battery designs. Other firms are involved in this scheme as well, including Marelli Automotive Systems and Delta Motorsport. The UK government is also helping support this project.

This new Defender with a hydrogen powertrain is actively being worked on right now. In the UK, testing is expected to begin toward the tail end of 2021, when engineers will verify the vehicle's performance, off-road capability (a critical aspect of any Land Rover) and efficiency. There's no word when a fuel cell-powered Defender might go on sale, but the idea of a rugged off-roader that's squeaky-clean, nearly silent and still plenty performant is a tantalizing one.

The 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 is like a concept car you can buy

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Watch this: The Land Rover Defender 90 still likes to get muddy