Honda Sets Fuel-Cell Plans in L.A.



Honda plans to lease a fuel-cell-powered vehicle directly to consumers inSouthern California for around $600 per month, beginning in the summer of 2008.

The leasing of the FCX Clarity will test both Honda’s fuel-cell platform and as well as the ability of dealers to handle the futuristic technology, Honda representatives said after the unveiling of the new fuel-cell vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show.


A fuel-cell stack is the Clarity's primary power source as it charges an experimental lithium-ion battery that powers the vehicle's electric motor. Improvements in power density in the Clarity fuel-cell stack translate into a 20-percent increase in fuel-economy, which is estimated at 68 miles per gallon. The Clarity's overall range is about 270 miles, which is about 30 percent better than Honda's earlier fuel-cell vehicles. The fuel cell is about 400 pounds lighter and 45 percent smaller dimensionally.


The lithium-ion battery pack is 50-percent smaller than the current generation FCX fuel-cell vehicle’s ultra-capacitor system. It also comes with a 5000-psi hydrogen storage tank, which carries about ten-percent more hydrogen and is easier to fill with existing infrastructure.


"Step-by-step, with continuous effort, commitment and focus we are working to overcome obstacles to the mass-market potential of zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell automobiles," said Tetsuo Iwamura, American Honda president and chief executive officer.


Honda also is pairing the Clarity with another experimental business, a home energy station that uses natural gas found in many American homes to power a fuel cell that produces heat and electricity as well as hydrogen. Using a home-fueling station can reduce both the cost and carbon dioxide emissions, said Ben Knight, vice president of Honda Research and Development America.


Honda officials declined to say how many vehicles it is prepared to put into the test or how much they will cost to build. However, Sage Marie, Honda spokesman, said leasing the FCX Clarity, which is designed to appeal to contemporary consumers, will help bring closer the day when advanced technology vehicles will become more common on American streets.


"We'll learn a lot about consumer reaction and customer interest," he said.


Marie, however, declined to make any predictions about when fuel-cell vehicles would become commercially viable. Strategically, though, the experiments with fuel-cell vehicles are becoming more important, he said.


"It's become a hedge against really high fuel prices," he said. "What it is in the long run is making sure the automobile remains viable for the next 100 years.”


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