Honda rolls out new zero-emission car
Jun 16, 2008 - Tomoko A. Hosaka - The Associated Press
Honda's new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled
off a Japanese production line Monday and is headed to
Southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz
over the latest splash in green motoring.
The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity,
emits only water and none of the noxious fumes believed
to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy
efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that
of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.
Japan's third biggest automaker expects to lease out
a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within
three years. In California, a three-year lease will run
$600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision
Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis
and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura
Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen
Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.
"It's so smooth," said Harris, who played villainness
Marie Warner on the hit TV show "24" and was flown over
by Honda for the ceremony. "It's like a future machine,
but it's not."
The FCX Clarity is an improvement of its previous-generation
fuel cell vehicle, the FCX, introduced in 2002.
A breakthrough in the design of the fuel cell stack,
which is the unit that powers the car's motor, allowed
engineers to lighten the body, expand the interior and
increase efficiency, Honda said.
The fuel cell draws on energy synthesized through a chemical
reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen in the air, and
a lithium-ion battery pack provides supplemental power.
The FCX Clarity has a range of about 270-miles per tank
with hydrogen consumption equivalent to 74 miles per gallon,
according to the carmaker.
The 3,600-pound vehicle can reach speeds up to 100 miles
John Mendel, executive vice president of America Honda
Motor Co., said at a morning ceremony it was "an especially
significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps
toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."
The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption
of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen
fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California,
Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its
website but could only consider those living near stations
in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.
Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen
few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for
a statewide network of hydrogen stations, but progress
has been slow.
The state has also recently relaxed a mandate for the
number of zero-emission cars it aims to have on roads.
By 2014, automakers must now sell 7,500 electric and hydrogen
fuel cell vehicles, a reduction of 70 percent.
Spallino, who currently drives Honda's older FCX and
was also flown in for the ceremony, said he will use the
Clarity to drive to and from work and for destinations
within the Los Angeles area. The small number of hydrogen
fuel stations is the "single limiting factor" for fuel
cell vehicles, he said.
"It's more comfortable, and it handles well," said Spallino
of Redondo Beach. "It's got everything. You're not sacrificing
anything except range."
The world's major automakers have been making heavy investments
in fuel cells and other alternative fuel vehicles amid
climbing oil prices and concerns about climate change.
Although Honda Motor Co. was the first Japanese automaker
to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in
1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's
Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than 1
million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and
the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.
Honda also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid-only
model, as well as hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty
CR-Z and Fit subcompact.
Toyota has announced that it would launch a plug-in hybrid
with next-generation lithium-ion batteries by 2010 and
a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle later in Japan later this
U.S. carmaker General Motors Corp. plans to introduce
a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle in 2010. It
also introduced a test-fleet of hydrogen fuel cell Equinox
Honda has no plans for a plug-in electric vehicle. President
Takeo Fukui said he does not believe current battery technology
is good enough to develop a feasible car.
The company has not revealed how much each car costs
to make, and it is unclear when, or if, the car will be
available for mass-market sales. Takeo has set a target
for 2018, but meeting that goal will depend on whether
Honda can significantly lower development and assembly
costs as well as market reaction to fuel cells.