Honda’s new Clarity Fuel Cell sedan might be able to save the environment, but it’s likely to cut into the saving of customers who want to buy one.
The hydrogen car, set to reach U.S. showrooms “before the end of 2016,” will carry a sticker price of around $60,000, according to the Japanese maker, about $2,000 more than the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle launched late last year. But, at $499 a month, the Clarity will go for the same lease rate as the Mirai and a hydrogen-powered version of Hyundai’s Tucson SUV.
“The company will start by leasing vehicles and expects to move to retail sales with increased volumes and market coverage,” Honda said in a news release. Initially, it noted, the Clarity Fuel Cell sedan will be offered only in Los Angeles and Orange countries, and around San Francisco and the California capital of Sacramento.
That’s because of the limited availability of the clean and lightweight fuel. Currently, there are only a handful of pumps open to the American public, almost all of them in California. That state has laid out plans to put a network of at least 100 hydrogen stations into operation by decade’s end, and several other states are considering similar plans. Japan and Germany are also planning to expand the availability of the fuel.
That’s because proponents see hydrogen as the cleanest form of energy. Use it to power a fuel cell stack and you get a flow of electric current – with only water vapor in the exhaust. That power can be used to run the same electric motors found in a battery vehicle. But hydrogen can offer longer range – about 300 miles in the case of the Honda — and Clarity can tank up as quickly as a gasoline-powered vehicle, three to five minutes.
(Tesla exec dismisses hydrogen cars as a “dodge.” Click Here for the story.)
A number of automotive manufacturers have been testing fuel-cell vehicles in recent years. But Honda was actually the first automaker to put one in the hands of consumers. It began leasing a limited run of the original FCX Clarity models in 2005.
But the launch of the new Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan was delayed by more than a year, in part due to a shift in engineering resources as the maker dealt with a series of quality and safety issues. As a result, it will become the third automaker to bring the latest wave of hydrogen technology to market, behind Toyota and Hyundai, the latter introducing the Tucson version in 2014.
Once the Honda Clarity comes to market, all three vehicles will be available for lease. But while they carry the same monthly price, the Tucson will come with an “all-you-can-eat” plan that includes unlimited supplies of hydrogen.
Hyundai is only leasing its model, but Honda and Toyota will allow buyers to purchase their fuel-cell models outright, letting them benefit from potential $7,500 federal tax credits.
Despite the limited availability of hydrogen – which is, ironically, the most abundant element in the universe – a number of other manufacturers are expected to bring out their own fuel-cell vehicles soon. As TheDetroitBureau.com reported during the North American International Auto Show this month, that includes Mercedes-Benz. The German subsidiary of Daimler AG already has been fleet testing a hydrogen car in the U.S. The production model is expected to be ready by 2017.
(Click Here for more on Daimler’s hydrogen car plans.)
General Motors has also run extensive fleet tests and holds more fuel-cell patents than any other manufacturer. It is partnering with erstwhile rival Honda on even more advanced technology and as TheDetroitBureau.com reported this week, the two partners are believed to be considering plans to open a joint fuel-cell plant in the next few years.
Ford has joined a similar development consortium with Daimler, Renault and Nissan and the four makers could soon be entering the market, as well.
Not everyone is enamored of hydrogen power, however. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the battery-carmaker Tesla, has frequently dismissed the technology as “fool cells.”
But many experts believe that both battery and hydrogen cars will find use in the next decade or two, unless and until a truly competitive, green technology comes along that can match the advantages – including range, ease of use and cost – of gasoline-powered vehicles.
(For more on the possible GM-Honda joint venture, Click Here.)