Revolutionary hydrogen car has the credentials to change motoring

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.

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.

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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

Add a comment…
supermanuel 20 October 2009

Re: Honda FCX Clarity

fuzzybear wrote:
the idea of each home making its own Hydrogen seems a good one

Absolutely. Can just imagine how the immensely powerful oil/energy corps are going to feel about this...

fuzzybear 18 October 2009

Re: Honda FCX Clarity

Like the idea of this car.Still think Hydrogen is the way to go. Honda have developed a home hydrogen station called the Home Energy Station IV that they state "will reduce CO2 emissions by 30-percent and energy costs by 50-percent compared to an average home that is on the grid and uses a gasoline-powered car." Im guessing thats based on the higher American average use of electricity, so over here should make a higher impact than the 30% emissions reduction.

Also read this, which was interesting and nice to see a British company at the forefront

"In 2008, British firm ITM Power announced that they were building a home hydrogen fueling station that would be available by the end of the year. This H2 refueling station uses an inexpensive plastic membrane and electrolyzes water to produce the hydrogen. Through economies of scale the price of this unit could drop as low as $4,000"

Im sure there will many kinks to work through , but the idea of each home making its own Hydrogen seems a good one

beachland2 16 October 2009

Re: Honda FCX Clarity

The only time when electric will be succesful is when they are cheaper than petrol. they need to make a 250 mile range small car for about £6k, thats list price without any discounts or subsidies ane includes the price of ownership of the battery cells. with rented battery cells the list price would need to be about £4-£5k.

it will take at least 10 years before they will get near those prices.