Honda FCX: What a Gas!

Jim Motavalli spends a week in suburbia with a hydrogen Honda.

Published: 06-Jun-2005

FOR a decade or longer, the fuel-cell car has resembled the mirage that recedes as you draw closer to it. Hydrogen-powered vehicles always seemed at least 20 years away, the subject of news conferences in Washington and static displays at auto shows. Even when test-drive opportunities came up, they were strictly controlled rides around a track, with nervous company representatives making excuses from the passenger seat.

All that changed last month when Honda handed me the keys to a 2005 edition of its FCX (for Fuel Cell Experimental), the first zero-emission, hydrogen-driven vehicle to be certified by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California for everyday commercial use. This is a street-ready hydrogen car with license plates and no rough edges, a test bed for green technology worth well over $1 million. Only 20 similar cars exist in the United States and Japan, and I was one of the first journalists to drive it for an extended, unsupervised period - a week in the mixed company of Northeastern traffic.

Given my experience with fuel-cell prototypes that were noisy, balky and incapable of going very far between refuelings, the FCX was something of a surprise. Featuring the latest generation of Honda's own fuel cells (hundreds of them are arrayed in two multiple sets, called stacks) and a body and electric motor derived from the company's unsuccessful EV Plus battery vehicle, the FCX felt like a real car, not a high-strung test mule.

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