The Clarity in Honda's Future

Prototype fuel-cell car features radical design with a comfortable feel

Published: 25-Dec-2007

SANTA MONICA, CALIF.: Often, it is the smallest of gestures that deliver the most powerful messages. I was reminded of this last month when I settled into the driver's seat of the FCX Clarity, a sedan powered by fuel cells that Honda will begin leasing to a handful of private customers next summer. Fresh from a briefing that detailed the car's NASA-grade complexity, I wondered what procedures might be required to start the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen and bring the power supply to life.

In fact, it took nothing more than inserting an entirely conventional metal key into a normal-looking switch and pushing a power button much like the one that starts the Honda S2000 sports car. The familiarity of the steps — deliberate gestures, I think, to convince drivers that the cars of our future aren't so frightening after all — reinforced the message of the meeting I had just left: the FCX Clarity is ready now.

Scanning the dashboard for unmarked switches, mysterious buttons and puzzling controls, I looked for the inevitable loose ends of an engineering prototype being hustled toward production. Seeing nothing unfamiliar beyond a dazzling 3D dashboard display — a large power meter where my eye expected a tachometer, with a glowing ball in its center to track hydrogen consumption — I noted essentials like the parking brake and seat adjustment, all familiar operations. There really wasn't going to be much out of the ordinary about the way this car drove, at least.

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