As Others Focus On EVs, Honda Sticks With Hydrogen

August 14, 2009

Earlier this year we got the chance to drive the production 2009 Honda FCX Clarity, which is the first publicly available hydrogen sedan.

The FCX can't yet be considered a mass-produced vehicle. Looking at our test vehicle and its rough edges underneath, it was clear that the FCX is hand-fettled, even if it now drives without a hitch.

Despite recent blows to hydrogen infrastructure development, Honda this week reaffirmed that it will be mass-produced. The automaker still has plans to make a future version of the FCX on a mass-production scale within ten years.

California has kept with that long-term vision, along with a short-term one to build up the infrastructure before the vehicles. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been bullish on hydrogen, pushing ahead for more hydrogen vehicles and an expanded infrastructure, and even declaring his love for the FCX. And that was after the Obama administration had made some strong moves away from federal funding of hydrogen projects and toward battery technology and charging infrastructure, with Energy Secretary Steven Chu declaring that hydrogen vehicles were still 10 to 20 years from viability.

2009 Honda FCX Clarity

2009 Honda FCX Clarity

Already, there are at least 26 stations in the state and an emphasis on public access; that's more than a third of the 62 hydrogen-refueling points nationwide. Under a plan called the Hydrogen Highway—with the state of California, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, and Shell—a chain of hydrogen stations will be built to allow passage from Southern California to Vancouver in time for the 2010 Olympics.

According to Autocar, hydrogen-development head Takashi Moriya recently stated, "Fuel-cell cars will become necessary. We're positioning it [the FCX Clarity] as the ultimate zero-emission car." The FCX is now offered in the U.S. on a limited lease.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda last week said that the company also plans a publicly available fuel-cell car within six years, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi and Nissan are betting on electric cars, with Nissan recently unveiling its LEAF, a car that will be mass-produced in the U.S. beginning in 2012. General Motors is preparing its much-publicized extended-range electric vehicle, the Volt, but it's also still moving ahead with fuel-cell development, says Automotive News, despite tremendous cost hurdles to overcome.

An important point to remember is that these two technologies aren't completely independent. However, a Honda engineer explained to earlier this year that electric-vehicle technology is a building block for hydrogen tech. Honda is working on lithium-ion batteries, motors, and charging as part of its fuel-cell development, so if electric vehicles end up being the popular solution, the company will be prepared.

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