FleetSpeak

First Look at Honda’s Fuel Cell Car

November 20, 2015

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Photo by Thi Dao
Photo by Thi Dao

Back in 2013, Steve Ellis, manager of fuel cell marketing at Honda, nervously allowed me to test drive the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. With Honda’s unveiling of the all-new Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, he spoke to me again about this new car, hydrogen fueling stations, and the company’s plans.

The Clarity Fuel Cell, most likely a 2017 model-year, will have a range of more than 300 miles, up from the FCX Clarity’s range of 240 miles. The lighter and smaller powertrain, with weight and size similar to a V-6 powertrain, is now entirely under the hood. Pricing will be likely “competitive with similar vehicles.” Ellis believes fuel will initially cost more ($8-10 per kilogram), but drivers can expect more than 60 miles per kg and pricing could come down in the future. Honda hasn’t yet announced whether it would offer free fuel for a limited time.

The vehicle will be available in Northern and Southern California in fall 2016. As for fueling stations, Ellis said he expects California will have 40-50 stations up and running by fall of next year. There's already one in Harris Ranch, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, allowing drrivers to travel between northern and southern California today.

Electric vehicle (EV) range is increasing, which could pose a challenge for the expansion of fuel cell vehicles. But Ellis doesn’t see it that way.

“These are non-competing; these are collaborative technologies. They’re both all-electric cars,” Ellis said. “But the key difference will still be longer range and three- to five-minute fueling for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.” That’s in comparison to the hours it normally takes to charge a battery EV.

He added that while EV batteries are improving, so is fuel cell technology. The power density improvement on the Clarity Fuel Cell is 60% over the last model.

The big question for fleet managers: Will it be available to them? While the vehicle is targeted to retail customers, “that doesn’t mean we won’t consider a few early interested fleets,” Ellis said. He added that while the details aren’t finalized yet, “we would like to hear from customers where stations are developing that have an interest in the car for their fleet.”

I didn’t get a chance to test drive the Clarity Fuel Cell at the auto show, which with its right-side steering wheel, came directly from Japan. But I have heard of fleet interest in fuel cell vehicles, including 2016 Toyota Mirai, and I’m excited to see how fleets (and retail customers) respond to these new vehicles.

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Thi Dao

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Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.

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