Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Honda Motor Co. Ltd. makes it clear that despite widespread skepticism about the future of hydrogen as a fuel, it is seriously pursuing hydrogen-powered fuel cells as the ultimate powertrain solution.

The Japanese auto maker unveils here a sleek new fuel-cell powered car at the Los Angeles International Auto Show that it plans to market in limited numbers beginning next summer. The FCX Clarity has sleek looks, a friendly name and a boatload of improvements compared with its predecessor.

Honda isn’t talking about how many vehicles will be leased yet, and full details of the program will be set closer to launch, but current plans call for a 3-year lease term for $600 per month that will include maintenance, collision insurance and virtually no extraordinary measures to accommodate the advanced powertrain.

In other words, a van full of white-coated engineers and technicians will not be following the vehicles wherever they go or be making regular visits to the homes of lessees. When the car requires periodic maintenance, customers simply will schedule a visit with their local dealer, Honda says. The vehicle then will be transported to a special fuel-cell service facility located in the greater Los Angeles area and subsequently returned to the dealer.

Rather than focusing on cost, refueling infrastructure, durability and other issues that still pose major challenges to hydrogen as a fuel, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. President and CEO Tetsuo Iwamura urges doubters to focus on how far Honda already has come in its development of fuel-cell powertrains.

The FCX Clarity’s fuel-cell stack is one-fifth the original size, he says, and has half the number of parts. The new model also can operate in extremely cold temperatures, down to -22° F (-30° C), Honda says.

“The FCX Clarity is a shining symbol of the progress we’ve made with fuel-cell vehicles and of our belief in the promise of this technology,” Iwamura says.

“Step by step, with continuous effort, commitment and focus, we are working to overcome obstacles to the mass-market potential of zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell automobiles,” he says.

Stylistically, the car clearly is designed to have the same kind of eye-catching individuality as the Toyota Prius. Technically, it is a great leap forward from the previous-generation FCX, hundreds of pounds lighter and with a much more space-efficient powertrain.

The new car uses a lithium-ion battery pack that is 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the ultracapacitor used on the previous FCX, Honda says. And it has a range of 270 miles (435 km), up to 30% higher than the predecessor’s 210-mile (338-km) range.

The FCX Clarity’s new platform packages the Honda V Flow fuel-cell stack (which is 65% smaller than the previous stack) in the vehicle’s center tunnel, between the two front seats. Taking advantage of a completely new fuel-cell configuration, the vertically-oriented stack achieves an output of 100 kW vs. 86 kW in the current Honda FCX stack, with a 50% increase in output density by volume and 67% by mass.

Honda says the compact size allows for a more spacious interior and more efficient packaging of other powertrain components, which otherwise would be unattainable in a low-slung sedan.

dwinter@wardsauto.com