Honda Prices Clarity II FCEV
Honda was the first car maker to lease a hydrogen fuel cell-powered automobile to consumers: the Clarity FCEV and Bill Moore, our publisher was among the first to take it for a test drive.
Now Honda will introduce the next generation Clarity starting later this year, but unlike the Gen One model, buyers will be able to own the 300-mile range, zero-emission sedan, at least if they live in select markets in California: Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco and Sacramento, locations where hydrogen fueling stations exist. It will be priced around $60,000 and lease for $500/month, virtual the same as Toyota Mirai and Hyundai's Tucson FCEV, both going for $499/mo.
Because California awards special zero-emission credits for fuel cell cars, there is an extra financial incentive for automakers like Honda, Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai to lease FCEVs in the state. Because the only emission from the exhaust pipe is water vapor, the by-product of combining hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen (H2O), the state's Air Resources Board classifies them as 'zero-emission' vehicles, same as pure electrics (PEVs) like the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S. Both types of vehicles use electric propulsion: the key difference being the source of the energy. Where PEVs uses electro-chemical batteries charged from either the grid or distributed renewable sources like home solar panels, FCEVs use energy stored in the form of hydrogen. Technically speaking, hydrogen is not a 'fuel' but an energy carrier; most of which currently comes from reformed natural gas (methane) or electrolyzed water.
Where it can take as little as 15 minutes to many hours to recharge a PEV's battery pack, an FCEV can be 'refueled' in roughly the same amount of time as a gasoline engine model, assuming a high-pressure system is available. Most modern FCEVs use hydrogen compressed to as high as 10,000 PSI so the cars can have driving ranges similar to gasoline or diesel models.
For their part, carmakers like Honda and Toyota have engineered highly capable and reliable fuel cell vehicles. At issue now is the refueling infrastructure. There are reports Toyota is asking its Mirai dealers to stop selling the fuel cell car because of lack of fueling stations. It's estimated that each station costs around $1 million, so the cost-benefit ratio compared to installing relatively cheap public charging stations for PEVs is daunting. Carmakers don't want to have to build both cars and stations where the "fuel" at present is typically given away for free.
Back when Dr. Steven Chu was the US Energy Secretary, he noted that 'four miracles' would have to occur before fuel cells cars would be successful. Reporting from this week's Detroit Auto Show for Michigan NPR, Mark Bush asked both Honda and GM executives their views on the future of FCEVs and got very interesting and different answers. Honda's John Mendel endorsed the company's decision to continue to pursue and refine the technology, while GM's Mark Reuss admitted that while GM is still working on their program, he's not entirely sure where its going.
GM's commitment to production of the Volt and the Bolt clearly indicates where they see the technology headed, and it's batteries not fuel cells, at least for the moment, though they also are willing to hedge their bets. After all, Honda also is working on their own version of the Volt, due out sometime in 2018.
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