Mark Wednesday 14 November 2007 in your diary because yesterday, Honda took the covers off what it claims is the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered production car, the FCX Clarity.In our gallery are Honda’s first pictures of the car. As you can see, it’s a four-door saloon closely based on the FCX concept that appeared at the Tokyo motor show in 2005, and it'll be on show at the Los Angeles motor show until November 25.The important differences are that this FCX has a new Honda V-Flow fuel cell system which gives it an impressive 134bhp, 189 lb ft of torque, 100mph top speed and a 270-mile range. It is also fully compliant with America’s safety and crash regulations. And, of course, it emits nothing from its tailpipe but water vapour.
Honda says the FCX Clarity benefits from a significant number of advances in the performance and packaging of the fuel cell technology at its heart. That’s true even compared with the last Honda car to bear this car’s name, a supermini-sized vehicle trialled on an extremely small scale in Japan and the US.First up is the fact that this new FCX uses 20 per cent less hydrogen per mile than the last one, and is between two and three times more energy efficient than a conventional petrol-powered car.Secondly, it goes further between hydrogen gas fills – around 30 per cent further, up to a 270-mile maximum range – thanks to the new 5000psi hydrogen storage tank (which is 10 per cent bigger than the last), and also to the more advanced lithium ion battery pack in it, which charges more quickly than the last and is also 40 per cent lighter and half as big as the nickel metal hydride equivalent.Then comes the increase in the car’s power-to-weight ratio courtesy of those battery advances. The Honda FCX Clarity’s powertrain weighs 180kg and produces 134bhp. Given the car’s overall kerbweight of 1625kg, that gives it a power-to-weight ratio of 82.5bhp per tonne. That might not set your heartbeat racing but, considering that a current Ford Focus 1.6 generates 89bhp per tonne from an internal combustion engine that is, in pricipal, hundreds of years old, it’s actually pretty impressive.The FCX Clarity has the kind of equipment list you would expect of a typical road car, too. Its sat nav system marks all the nearest hydrogen filling stations, and it’s also got a rear view camera, adaptive cruise control, Honda’s collision mitigation braking system, a premium sound system, climate controlled seats, and Bluetooth connectivity; in short, it’s every bit the real deal.
So can you buy one?
Unfortunately not in the UK, but a limited number of customers over in California will be able to lease one, for just under £300 a month over three years, which will cover maintenance and collision insurance, as well as some - if not all - of the cost of the car.It’s not yet known how many of these cars Honda will make, or whether it has plans to offer them for lease in other markets. At any rate the FCX is likely to remain little more than an interesting irrelevance for UK drivers for as long as it takes for compressed hydrogen gas to be widely stocked on our forecourts.And will it save the world? Well, that depends on how quickly and widely the fuel is adopted, and also how it is produced. If the hydrogen's reformed from natural gas, as is most common today, then the FCX’s ‘well-to-wheel’ emissions of CO2 (the figure which takes into account the carbon produced during production and distribution of the fuel) are less than half those of a conventional petrol vehicle. If the hydrogen in its tank is produced via electrolysis, and the electricity necessary for that process produced from sustainable sources, that ‘well-to-wheel’ figure could approach zero; equally, if it’s made through the water gas process (the cheapest means of production), we could see a return to open-pit mining, and ultimately do more harm to the environment than good. That’s why the argument for the fuel cell car is far from won for the car-makers such as Honda, that have been developing them. The Honda FCX Clarity though – a real, uncompromised, manufacturable fuel cell car for the road – seems to make it a great deal stronger.