Honda has delivered the first of its Clarity Fuel Cell cars, with six drivers picking up the keys to their new, hydrogen-powered steeds. The car, revealed more than a year ago when we drove the prototype in Japan, is only the latest in a series of fuel-cell based models for Honda. However, it’s among the first that has been offered to the general public.
Initially, Honda’s FCV’s – or Fuel Cell Vehicles – were predominantly leased to government organizations or similar, racking up not only emissions-free motoring but evidence about how the technology performs on the road. Individual motorists were invited to get onboard from 2005, meanwhile. Indeed, the first six drivers to pick up their Clarity Fuel Cell are all former drivers of the second-generation Clarity FCX hydrogen-powered car.
While the drivetrain is electric, much like the many EVs already available, the Clarity Fuel Cell supplies power not from a plug-in battery or gas engine, but by converting hydrogen into electricity. At the tailpipe, all that emerges is pure water.
That clearly has ecological benefits, but it also makes new demands on fueling infrastructure. Unlike widespread gas stations, or increasingly prevalent electric car charging points, there’s no cohesive network of places to put hydrogen into your car. There are currently around 70 places in California which offer the fuel.
The Clarity Fuel Cell joins Toyota’s Mirai, which has been on the road since October 2015. As was Toyota’s strategy, Honda has limited Clarity Fuel Cell preorders to just a handful of dealerships, vetting would-be drivers to ensure they’ll have access to fuel. In fact, only a dozen dealerships offer the car: six in Southern California, five in the Bay Area, and one in Sacramento.
On top of that, cars are only being leased, not sold outright. Honda charges $369 per month for a three year lease. However, that includes $15,000-worth of hydrogen fuel, the automaker says, along with coveted zero-emission access to the HOV lanes in California. Leasees will also get up to three weeks of free rental of a regular car during that 36 month period, in case they need to go on a more significant trip.
On a full tank of hydrogen, the Clarity Fuel Cell should do 366 miles according to Honda and the EPA’s testing. Total combined MPGe is 68, and a full refuel takes 3-5 minutes.
Although the driving experience of a fuel-cell car is much akin to a regular electric vehicle, what remains to be seen is how quickly the hydrogen infrastructure can be built out to support the technology. Honda says that will need to happen before it can consider expanding dealership support for the Clarity Fuel Cell further in California.