Revolutionary hydrogen car has the credentials to change motoring
Matt Prior
10 October 2009

What is it?

A revolution. The Honda FCX Clarity may look like a typical, five-door large family hatchback, but don’t be deceived: it also just happens to be the first full production fuel cell-powered car in the world.

Okay, so ‘full production’ is not of the fashion that we’d usually consider it. Honda won’t be making tens or hundreds of thousands of FCX Clarities (more like 200, in fact), but it is the real deal, the first of many. It’s estimated that, by 2050, 100 million fuel cell cars will be sold every year.

Simply put, the FCX Clarity is a five-door hatchback, with an electric motor (and control unit) under its bonnet, powering its front wheels. In its middle is a fuel cell stack, and under the boot floor is a tank that can hold several kilos of hydrogen, compressed to 5000psi. The hydrogen is released as needed to the fuel cell, which generates electricity as needed by the motor. The only byproduct is pure water vapour, which exits from the tailpipe.

Crucially, the FCX Clarity emits no greenhouse gases. And, if you cleanly generate and pressurise the hydrogen that goes into it, its overall carbon footprint is, by current standards, negligible.

It is, in short, the future.

It is also sadly, unavailable in the UK. As it stands the FCX Clarity is available to lease only, and only in Japan and California, because they’re the only places where hydrogen is widely available on tap.

In many ways the FCX is still a research project, but hand in hand with that development is Honda’s ambition to turn it into a commercially viable product.

Honda desperately wants to sell an affordable fuel cell car to the wider public, at a price that will let it compete with the biofuel and full electric-powered cars it will be up against in the coming decades.

That future may still seem a long way off, but the FCX Clarity has started making it a reality.

What’s it like?

Totally familiar yet distinctly odd, both at the same time.


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The great thing about the FCX Clarity is that it’s so utterly usable and, in a lot of ways, utterly normal. You get in, insert and twist a key, and press the start button. There’s no engine noise to greet you, but you get a few muted whirring and whining noises as you might in a Toyota Prius hybrid.

The FCX’s cabin is pretty classy. Honda says it’s furnished with eco-fabrics, but you wouldn’t know. It just feels like a well-finished Japanese car. There’s plenty of space in both the front and back.

There’s a diddy toggle gearlever like a lot of autos now have, and with a press of throttle you’re away. The FCX’s low-speed ride could be a bit more supple, but it smooths out as speeds rise. The steering is light, yet consistently so, and pleasingly responsive and accurate. The turning circle’s tight. Visibility is reasonable. It is, unsurprisingly, astonishingly quiet.

And because this car looks (even if Honda says it doesn’t), like any number of other D-segment cars, you go about your daily driving barely noticed by most road users. All perfectly ordinary - except that you’re driving one of the most revolutionary cars in the world.

And it’s that realisation that makes driving the FCX Clarity even more remarkable. Here’s a 10sec to 60mph car that’ll sit at 100mph all day, with a range of well over 200 miles, that emits nothing but pure water. It has 134bhp, similar to a lot of family cars. It has 189lb ft of torque, like a lot of family cars. It only takes a couple of minutes to fill its fuel tank, just like a family car. Yet from its tailpipe comes nothing but water .

There are some landmark cars in motoring history: stuff like the Ford Model T, the Citroen Traction Avant and the Mini. One day I think they’ll add the Honda FCX Clarity to the list.

Should I buy one?

Well, the rub is, of course, that you can’t. Not yet. Honda has no plans to bring the FCX Clarity to Europe, so until it convinces not just policymakers but, more important, European energy suppliers that hydrogen is a commercially viable proposition, the FCX will remain mostly unattainable.

There are a few other stumbling blocks too. The technology in the FCX isn’t yet proven to be durable enough to sell in large numbers, while Honda and others are also looking for more effective, cheaper ways of storing compressed hydrogen; the FCX’s tank is thick-walled and pricey.

But despite the advanced tech, the FCX already feels totally competitive against conventional family cars.

At the moment, Japanese and Californian leaseholders are paying around £280 a month to run an FCX Clarity, which is undoubtedly a vastly subsidised deal.

But say I lived in the right place, was in the market for a new car, and had the chance to make that an FCX: would I run one? In an instant.

Join the debate


15 October 2009

I would have this over a electric car anyday - I think top gear looked at this ages ago - and I was impressed then. I don't know how hydrogen is made - so not sure if its greener than electric - but if it is - and the government is serious about its greencredentials - then surely hydrogen is the way to go? Altho we all know we will probably end up going the electric way - which I personally think is the wrong way. Modern diesel engine are better than a prius!

15 October 2009

I've read on several occasions that more Co2 is produced in the 'manufacture' of the hydrogen than would have otherwise been produced by the equiverlant petrol car. This is therefore not the solution until we have more nuclear power stations.

Then there are the issues around storage and supply of the hydrogen. It'll be 20 years before people are driving around in these things, if at all. Shame because I like the idea of zero emmisions at source.

15 October 2009

I can't see fuel cell vehicles being a reality until we work out a way of easily (read: cheaply, with minimal environmental cost) obtaining hydrogen from water, and being able to turn this into liquid hydrogen.

Once this is mastered, the future lies in everyone having their own hydrogen producing unit (in = water, out = hydrogen and oxygen). Why? It would be far easier than a mass plant producing hydrogen and piping it under pressure at low temperatures to fuel stations. The cost of this infrastructure is frightening.

I can see a future where homes have their own hydrogen-producing unit, which produces enough hyrdogen to run your vehicle, and, with its own fuel cell added, enough electricity to heat and power your home.

All from water.

Of course it is more complex than that, but I honestly see this as the way of the future. IF the water-splitting technology can be mastered...

15 October 2009

[quote Autocar]Crucially, the FCX Clarity emits no greenhouse gases. And, if you cleanly generate and pressurise the hydrogen that goes into it, its overall carbon footprint is, by current standards, negligible. [/quote]

It's a shame that even an impartial review highlights the CO2 aspect of its clean running as being the crucial element. i care about all the other toxic and carcenogenic particles that come out of an exhaust. To me this is fantastic and amazing that on the roads these cars only emit clean water, i dont give a poo about its lack of CO2. Cars like this can transform the health of adults and children across the world, and it wont have anything to do with its carbon footprint.

15 October 2009

[quote Autocar]But say I lived in the right place, was in the market for a new car, and had the chance to make that an FCX: would I run one? In an instant.[/quote]

Aside from uncertain green credentials - it might spit water out the back but hydrogen is still incredibly expensive to produce, transport, compress - why exactly would you elect to run one?

It demands you locate a specialist filling station each time you near the end of that crappy 200 mile range (compare the 320d which tramps on past 700), isn't particularly fast, and contains technology so implausibly high-priced that each Clarity must be subsidised by around $0.5m to put it within reach of consumers.

$0.5m? Who's insuring these things? Who's replacing them when they get damaged or written off?

You then have the fact it has never been properly tested in dangerous environments such as Sainsbury's or the M25 on a Friday afternoon, and I keep reading bad things about fuel cells and freezing temperatures. Most buyers will be Californian fad queens looking to outdo their neighbours, probably keeping a 5.0 litre SUV in the garage for when nobody's looking.

Some day they will perfect hydrogen production and fuel cells but that's decades away. So unless your wellbeing depends on the success of this car, why be one of the guinea pigs?

15 October 2009

Just to clear something up, there will be no magic splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, it will always take at least precisely as much energy as is given out when oxygen and hydrogen recombine to form water. There are always going to be losses in the production process and in the fuel cell itself. Now some opinion, The whole world seems to be enamoured with fuel cells, the key is in the word cell, they are just a type of battery but rather than the chemical reaction that stores and releases charge being in a sealed system, the fuel call battery allows you to take out water and add in hydrogen. The process could be reversed to put in water and electricity and take out hydrogen and oxygen. The key is it requires production of electricity, just as much if not more than for any cell "battery". You already have the basic distribution infrastructure in place to create hydrogen at home/charge a battery, stop thinking of them as different things other than ways to store electric energy. Then this becomes just another electric car, with a fancy battery and an unusual and complicated way of charging it. I bet before this comes to market there will be 200-300 mile range electric cars and some high voltage charging stations (the infrastructure is already in your local substation) which can charge cars in a reasonable time. Why would you add hydrogen into that mix?

15 October 2009

Clouds are by far the biggest single factor affecting temperature on the earth's surface. You don't need to be a scientist to work that out. You can feel the difference on your skin when a cloud passes in front of the sun. Clouds = water vapour. Is it really such a good idea to have 100 million cars putting more water vapour into the atmosphere? Hydrogen fuel cells could turn out to be a colossal red herring. Their main appeal exists in their scientific cleverness. They are nice, neat chemistry equation. The holy grail is for a car to run on CO2. The closest we get to that is biofuel. I thought the only objection is the effect on food prices? They are now looking at several ways to produce it so that it doesn't compete with food production. Including using algae. If so I'd favour this route as it means higher octane fuel and a world that still allows fun to be had behind the wheel. I'd have a lotus exige tri fuel tomorrow if they'd let me. It's even quicker than the petrol car. What's not to like?

15 October 2009

Electric cars have been said to be at least 20-25 years away to be at a standard when they can replace an average car of today. Hydrogen cells can develop a lot in that time too.

15 October 2009

[quote the pits]Clouds are by far the biggest single factor affecting temperature on the earth's surface.[/quote]

You are presuming that temperature change is a bad thing.

Algae fuel is a nice idea, i can only see enough of it being made to serve a small % of the worlds demand though.

15 October 2009

First off I think this car is brilliant. But what worries me about all these new technologies is when will we be ready to invest? The problem as I see it is not the complexity of the technologies themselves, but the sheer number of these technologies will mean another VHS -v- BetaMax dilema. If only they could put their heads together, select one technology and then throw all their money and effort in to that, perhaps we'd all be better off sooner rather than later.

But I agree with the person who mentioned the BMW diesel engine above. 700 miles to a tank, well in excess of 50mpg, it's powerful enough to satisfy most people, it's fast etc. Until someone can come up with a better solution than that, I know which technology I want to invest in.


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