The first production hydrogen fuel-cell car, the FCX Clarity, has rolled down Honda's Japanese assembly line. Is it, or something like it, the future of driving?
A big car for a big land
The previous FCX was small three-door hatch. The new model is a futuristically-styled four door, four-seat sedanoid, which is about the same size as the current Accord.
According to reports, Honda plans to make 200 or so Claritys in the next few years, with the majority available for lease through American Honda dealers; currently there are three authorised dealers located in Southern California. The lease includes both insurance and servicing, and is priced at US$600 per month with deliveries set to commence in the next few months.
What is a fuel-cell car?
In a conventional car, power is generated and delivered to the wheels by an engine that combusts petrol with oxygen in the air. As petrol is made primarily of carbon, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are emitted. The former is toxic, while both are responsible for climate change.
In a hydrogen fuel-cell car, such as the FCX Clairty, electricity is produced by combining hydrogen (stored in a tank) with atmospheric oxygen. This is used to power an electric motor that drives the wheels, with the only by-product being water.
The Clarity also has a lithium-ion battery pack to store energy generated during braking and coasting.
What a gas!
That big bright orange tank holds 4.1kg of hydrogen gas compressed at 5000psi, or about 340 times atmospheric pressure at sea level.
According to Honda, there are 370 litres of luggage space in the Clarity's boot, but because of the large hydrogen tank seen in the last slide, the space is rather oddly shaped.
The future isn't poverty spec (part I)
Honda, no doubt trying to prove that saving the whales and the planet doesn't involve too much sacrifice, has kitted the Clarity out with a pretty swish looking interior. There's a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio and a USB interface for MP3 players, as well as Bluetooth hands-free and climate controlled front seats.
The future isn't poverty spec (part II)
There's seating for four inside the Clarity's space-age Accord-sized shell. Seeing as it's pitched at the American market, there are generously sized cupholders sprinkled throughout, such as the ones hiding the centre armrest. The seats and doors are trimmed in Bio-Fabric — a plant-derived material that Honda claims is more carbon-neutral than traditional interior materials.
Three of the Clarity's first five customers were on hand at the ceremony held for Job One rolling down the line. Here (from left to right) is Honda CEO Takeo Fuki, film producer Ron Yerxa, Jon Spallino (the first retail customer for a fuel-cell car) and actress Laura Harris. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband director Christopher Guest were absentees.
A stack of fuel
A new fuel-cell stack, called V Flow, powers the FCX Clarity. The entire powertrain is 45 per cent smaller than the one used in the previous FCX model, yet it generates more power (100kW versus 86kW) and is more efficient. According to Honda, a full tank of hydrogen should yield around 460km of city and highway driving.
A load of hot air
The location of hydrogen fueling stations are pre-loaded onto the Clarity's satellite navigation system. Although only water is emitted when driving the Clarity around, CO2 is still a byproduct of hydrogen extraction from natural gas. Honda claims, however, that the well-to-wheel carbon emissions are half that of a conventional petrol engine car.
To hasten a climate friendly driving future, Honda is working on alternatives to current hydrogen production methods, such as this experimental hydrogen station powered by solar power.