Honda has pulled the plug on the Clarity Electric, the purely battery-powered version of its exotic alternative fuel vehicle.
The automaker plans to continue selling the two other versions of the Clarity, one using a plug-in hybrid driveline, the other powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell stack.
The departure of the Clarity Electric is likely to surprise few observers – and disappoint few potential buyers. Introduced at the New York International Auto Show in 2017, the quirky looking battery-electric vehicle offered a mere 89 miles per charge, something that clearly missed the mark at a time when rivals like Tesla were starting to come to market with products offering substantially longer range.
(Honda grows CR-V line-up for 2020 with new hybrid.)
Of course, it also didn’t help that Honda stuck with a sedan body style, albeit one pushing the edge with its design, at a time when demand was surging for SUVs and CUVs.
All told, Honda saw sales of all three versions of the Clarity plunge 42% last year, to a mere 11,654 units. The battery-electric Clarity was, by far, the slowest-selling version.
Clarity followed the formula Honda first demonstrated with the original Insight hybrid. The two-seater debuted in the U.S. in 1999, months ahead of the Toyota Prius. Insight used a radically aerodynamic, all-aluminum body to get more than 70 miles per gallon. But its lack of power, never mind utility, minimized demand.
Clarity similar emphasized energy-saving aerodynamics while downplaying performance. The car’s chassis was specifically designed for alternative powertrain technologies, but that required compromise as it was offered with three very different systems, including the hydrogen-powered Clarity FCV, a plug-in and the all-electric model.
As a result, it didn’t adopt the skateboard-like platform used by the wave of new all-electric models coming to market, such as the Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-E. In turn, that meant there was far less room for batteries. Even compared to other early all-electric models like the Nissan Leaf, the Clarity EV couldn’t travel very far before needing to plug back in.
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Honda planners argued that 89 miles was more than enough to handle the typical American’s chores or daily commute. But buyers still wanted substantially more.
In reality, the Clarity plug-in hybrid can also handle most daily needs with its 48 miles of all-electric range, but it has the advantage of being able to switch to gas power for longer trips.
The Clarity FCV, meanwhile, can get about 200 miles on a tank of hydrogen, but the gas isn’t widely available, Honda thus limiting sales to specific locations in California where there are pumps within a reasonable distance.
The departure of the Honda Clarity EV comes as manufacturers are shedding other first-generation “electrified” vehicles. Ford, for one, killed of the battery-powered version of its Focus sedan along with the gas-powered model.
This past week, BMW announced it was dropping one of its first battery-cars, the i8, a plug-in hybrid sports car and one of two models sold through the BMW i sub-brand. But the Bavarian automaker plans to launch three new all-electric models over the next year, including the i4 coupe-sedan, the iX3 SUV and the iNext crossover.
(Honda selling electric vehicles only in Europe by 2022.)
As for Honda, the automaker says it remains committed to having alternative powertrain technology make up two-thirds of its global volume by 2030. It is counting on hybrids to generate the majority of that demand but also plans to launch several pure battery-electric vehicles during the next several years.