Did you think you wouldn't see fuel cell vehicles and the realization of zero emissions hydrogen power in your lifetime? The hydrogen reality may be closer than you've hoped. Honda, the quiet technical innovator, will be leasing its FCX Clarity production fuel cell car to select customers much sooner than expected. Like the EV Plus electric car and the first-generation FCX fuel cell vehicle that came before it, this is a limited production vehicle that's manufactured like other Honda vehicles, but not yet in mass market volume. Even so, this is clearly a next step toward commercializing an advanced technology vehicle and a milestone in our path to a more environmentally compatible future.
An evolution of Honda's tireless efforts in zero emission electric drive vehicles, the FCX Clarity blows the smoke and mirrors off the futuristic concept and engineering vehicles shown on sci-fi pages and instead presents a sleek, stylish, and decidedly Main Street America sedan powered by "tomorrow's" clean fuel: hydrogen. In this case hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the Clarity's advanced fuel cell, converting chemical energy into electricity to power the sophisticated electric powertrain.
Moving beyond fleet testing under relatively controlled conditions, in a few short months the Clarity will be delivered into the hands of regular consumers. For $600 monthly, a lucky group of forward thinkers in Southern California will be able to lease an FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan for three years. The deal gets sweeter, too, since that six-hundred also includes collision insurance and maintenance. Honda obviously wants to keep close tabs on consumer interaction with the Clarity as part of the development process.
The Clarity is not a baby step in the production-ready consumer fuel cell evolution, but rather one giant leap. Honda's new V Flow fuel cell stack pushes technology boundaries on every level. The vertically oriented V Flow stack is 65 percent smaller than the Honda FC fuel cell stack it replaces. Its compact size allows the V Flow to be positioned in the center tunnel between the front seats. The entire powertrain packaging is 45 percent smaller than the previous generation, which Honda points out is equivalent to the space required for a modern gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain.
Small but mighty, V Flow delivers 100 kilowatts of output compared to the 86 kW produced by the current FC stack and also offers a 50 percent increase in output density by volume. Clarity employs an advanced lithium-ion battery pack that is also 50 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the ultra-capacitor design used in the current FCX. Packaging of the entire powertrain benefits from the V Flow design, which allows Honda to engineer the Clarity as a sporty and very functional sedan.
On the road, Clarity provides performance improvements over the previous FCX as well. Part of this is comes from a 400 pound weight reduction realized by the V Flow platform, which brings a 25 percent improvement in overall power-to-weight ratio. Fuel economy is said to be 20 percent better, which Honda estimates to be the equivalent of 68 mpg for combined city/highway driving. With a single 5,000 psi hydrogen storage tank, Clarity has an estimated range of 270 miles, a 30 percent increase over the current FCX and a driving range that's likely to be acceptable to consumers.
Honda will begin limited retail marketing of the FCX Clarity in the summer of 2008 in Southern California. Alongside further development of the car and fueling infrastructure, Honda is working on a service system that provides customer convenience while allowing Honda to track the ownership experience. When service is required, a customer simply drops off the Clarity at the nearest Honda dealership and American Honda transports the vehicle to its Los Angeles area service facility. Here, qualified technicians handle the needed work and then the vehicle is delivered back to the customer's local dealership for pick-up.
Honda is relentless in moving fuel cell technology forward. Real-world tests in small fleets are one avenue to proving the viability of advanced technology vehicles. In this case, Honda goes some steps further because the FCX Clarity is a limited production car that's going to regular consumers. It's a bold move and Honda will surely benefit from the program as much as the Southern California drivers lucky enough to lease the Clarity for three years.
When you look at the Clarity, it's difficult not to imagine you're taking a sneak peek at an Accord of the future. This stylish four door sedan represents a major milestone in design, fuel cell development, and the future of zero emission hydrogen as an important fuel alternative. We're breathlessly awaiting the next development in this hydrogen car's drive to the mass market.