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Driving the Future in Honda's hydrogen FCX Concept

Honda shows off its new FCX Concept fuel-cell vehicle.

Kevin Massy/ CNET Networks
Kevin Massy/ CNET Networks

Placing a great deal of trust in a bunch of automotive journalists, Honda let about 20 of us loose today in their next-generation hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles on the Laguna Seca racetrack in California. Only two models of the Honda FCX Concept exist, and we got a chance to put the futuristic sedans through their paces while admiring the sleek styling and high-tech drive train components that enabled us to blast around at 80mph with no emissions besides water.

The FCX Concept runs entirely on hydrogen, has a range of 270 miles per tank, and represents a significant advancement for Honda's hydrogen fuel-cell program, which to date has taken the shape of toaster-shaped compact cars with horizontally mounted fuel-cell stacks that take up a large amount of space in vehicle's floor. By contrast, the FCX Concept packs its compact fuel cell (pictured) along the spine of the car, giving the designers far more room to play with interior space and exterior design.

Like GM's Sequel fuel-cell vehicle that we test drove in the California desert earlier this year, the Honda FCX Concept uses regenerative braking to charge an onboard lithium-ion battery that assists the car's electric motor in periods of high acceleration. Unlike the Sequel, the FCX Concept uses only one coaxial motor, which is mounted under the front hood to drive the front wheels and can propel the car to a top speed of 100mph. The interior of the FCX Concept is almost a parody of futuristic styling, with a concave instrument panel displaying a kaleidoscope of multicolored virtual gauges, including one circular display that expands, contracts and changes color according to the level of hydrogen being used.

Honda says it will have a production model of a hybrid fuel-cell car, closely based on the FCX Concept, in 2008. Looks like the future is about two years away.