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Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Honda's Clarity EV will only have 80-mile range

The new pure-electric model will have far less range than rivals such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3.

Despite being the originator of modern hybrid cars in the US with its original Insight model in 1999, Honda has struggled to be seen as a leader in electrified automobiles, largely ceding that green ground to automakers such as Toyota and Tesla. That hasn't stopped it from trying, however, and Honda is poised to make a big push into the electric-car arena with all-new EV and plug-in hybrid models based on its Clarity fuel cell vehicle.

But as Automotive News has learned, the Clarity EV looks like it may have a massive handicap when it comes to market -- range. Honda's forthcoming pure-electric will be available with a battery good for about 80 miles, a jarringly short distance compared even to aging models like the Ford Focus Electric (100 miles) and Nissan Leaf (107 miles). Chevrolet's new Bolt EV has a range that's nearly three times as long (238 miles), and the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 is expected to offer similar performance. An 80-mile range would put the as-yet-unseen Clarity EV's range close to that of Honda's own Fit EV, a model that went out of production in 2014.

Honda's desire to use the Clarity fuel cell model's platform and keep the price around $35,000 (before tax credits or other spiffs) are the key reasons, according to the report, why engineers were unable to shoehorn a bigger battery into the model for longer range. Keeping the model affordable to both build and sell to everyday customers was the model's defining priority.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Honda's Clarity EV will share its platform with the Clarity Fuel Cell model shown here.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

If the Clarity's range proves to be its Achilles heel, its physical size may be its trump card. The Clarity fuel-cell model is a large car, about the same size as an Accord, and the pure-electric variant should offer similar interior space to its hydrogen-powered relative. That means the Clarity EV should be significantly larger than other dedicated EVs on the market, save Tesla's far costlier Model S and Model X, which play squarely to premium buyers.

When reached for comment, Honda spokesperson Jessica Pawl confirmed the Clarity EV's 80-mile range and said, "Starting in 2016, Honda will begin introduction of a new generation of the Honda Clarity series of vehicles, with the hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle, followed by a new Clarity Electric and Clarity Plug-In Hybrid in 2017, as the company strives to realize significant growth in sales of electrified vehicles."