The Honda Clarity is available as a fuel cell electric car (FCEV). That means it generates electricity from a chemical reaction between hydrogen and air — specifically, the natural air that’s all around us.
Here’s the real trick of it all: It seems like the Clarity Fuel Cell car is creating power — energy to drive the car — out of nothing. But like so many other times in life, things that seem to be “nothing” are actually quite something. Ask any mom. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she’ll say. The truth is, that family meal or professional letter of recommendation she helped you with actually took a lot of work.
So the “nothing” of the Honda Clarity is that it’s simply an electric car similar, in some ways, to the Chevy Bolt or a Tesla Model S /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +0.18% . One exception: You don’t plug this one in. Both Toyota /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -0.51% and Hyundai /zigman2/quotes/204364212/delayed HYMTF -1.07% also have hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles as well.
Instead of plugging the Clarity fuel cell vehicle in, you fill the pressurized tank with hydrogen. The range between fillups is about 366 miles depending on the terrain and your driving habits.
As a result of the chemical process that creates electricity, the Clarity fuel cell vehicle emits only clean water vapor.
When compared to other electric vehicles, the Clarity has some advantages and disadvantages. As a car, separate from the technology that powers it, the Clarity is much nicer inside with more interior space than cars like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf /zigman2/quotes/207656007/delayed NSANY +1.06% and Toyota Mirai. It feels a lot like an upscale Honda Accord in many ways.
Honda introduced the car to many automotive writers at an event in California — many of those writers commented that, based on the interior, the Clarity could be branded as an Acura and no one would question it.
The Clarity is actually the result of several experimental cars dating all the way back to the late 1990s. So, around the same time DJ Kool was clearing his throat, Honda /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -0.36% was solving the problems of the future, eventually resulting in a series of FCX vehicles. Near as we can figure, FCX means fuel cell experimental. Personally, I’m hoping to see a “V12X” on the back of some Honda or Acura very soon. That would probably mean Honda is working on a 600 horsepower V-12 engine that runs on things people just don’t want, such as old banana peels, used coffee cups and every single item at a Shoney’s breakfast buffet — all with super low emissions.
While the Clarity doesn’t make 600 hp, it does feel quick. Output is 174 hp. That’s similar to the Bolt’s 200 hp and more than many other pure-electric vehicles. The Clarity’s fuel cell even has an electric turbocharger of sorts that supplies compressed air for improved performance. It also sounds kind of cool.
Honda has a rich racing heritage that continues to this day through the IndyCar Verizon /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ +2.41% series, boasting several well-known teams and drivers like Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton. The fact that Honda has some kind of innovative, performance-enhancing tech in an earth-friendly vehicle really isn’t a surprise.
Both Hyundai and Toyota have FCEV vehicles. The Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai are both hydrogen-powered electric cars similar to the Honda Clarity. Like the Honda, the Hyundai and Toyota models are only available for sale in California.
But there are some notable disadvantages with the Clarity fuel cell. One is that it needs compressed hydrogen to work. Have you ever seen a hydrogen filling station? No? Well, they exist — there’s one in Burbank, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, several in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in West Los Angeles. Notice anything about all these cities? They’re all in California — there are about 47 retail hydrogen stations in the state.
That’s the bad news — the Honda Clarity fuel cell is only available in California. However, Honda has a Clarity series coming which will include a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). Those will be offered outside California. Honda says the decision to sell the fuel cell version of the Clarity only in California is based solely on the availability of hydrogen fueling stations. As more stations are built, they will reassess the viability of expanding.
That’s completely reasonable. Imagine if Arizona did crazy things like not honoring Martin Luther King day or making it illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub or, more specifically, insisted that all cars run on coconut cream pie — a lot of automakers would likely skip selling gasoline-powered cars in that state.
But there’ a little secret here, too: Honda has spent a lot of time and money engineering the Clarity’s fuel cell so that it fits under the hood of a normal-ish looking sedan. The entire thing has been repackaged so that it now takes up about as much space as a Honda V-6 gasoline engine. Honda didn’t do all that work just so they can sell an entire car in just one state. I suspect the compact fuel cell they developed will begin powering lots of other things, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Honda is currently testing hydrogen fuel cell powered SUVs, minivans, factories, boats or anything else that needs a clean power source.
Interested in driving a Honda Clarity fuel cell? Here’s the basic info:
Cars are available for lease at $369 per month. That includes 20,000 miles per year.
Owners get 21 days of luxury car rental in case their travel needs take them away from hydrogen stations.
Owners get a $15,000 fuel allowance which is, essentially, free fuel for the length of the lease.