Sunday, July 27, 2008

Drive Honda's New Fuel Cell FCX Clarity

A Los Angeles couple has become the first to lease a next-generation Honda hydrogen/fuel cell sedan, the FCX Clarity. It is Honda's answer to the Toyota Prius, not to mention that it may be the answer to the question all of us have had lately to alternative -- and green -- fuel-efficient great cars to drive as fuel prices have skyrocketed.

Honda is leasing 200 of these vehicles to customers around the country, although most of them will be in Southern California, plus so-called 'opinion leaders', such as celebrities who can generate headlines and U.S. Congressmen who can generate favorable legislation. It's the same marketing tactic BMW is using for its bi-fuel Series 7 Hydrogen sedan, which switches from gas to hydrogen at the flip of a switch.

I test drove an earlier version of a Honda fuel cell vehicle, a small SUV version. It handled exactly like its conventional gas-powered sibling, except for a thundering silence that takes about one nanosecond to get used to. I also test drove the BMW hydrogen vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and was impressed at how its acceleration and handling were identical whether it was operating on gasoline mode or hydrogen mode. I have also tested the General Motors Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell prototype. Ditto. Great acceleration, great handling.

The Honda FCX Clarity is propelled by an electric motor that runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell. The only emission is water, and its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered automobile -- the equivalent of 74 mpg, and has a range of 280 miles before needing a hydrogen fill.

Hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars are not the answer. Neither are hybrids like the popular Prius, or plug-in electrics such as the GM Volt that's in the pipeline. But, most definitely, each and every type is a part of the answer.

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