Electronic Design

Hydrogen Cars Break Into The American Market

Powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, Honda’s FCX Clarity began rolling off the assembly line this week in Tochigi, Japan (Fig. 1). The company also announced a Southern California dealership network as well as its first customers, who will get their cars next month.

The sedan uses Honda’s V Flow stack combined with a compact lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the electric drive motor. Housed in the car’s center tunnel between the two front seats, the V Flow outputs 100 kW with a 50% increase in output density by volume over previous generations (Fig. 2). Similarly, the Li-ion pack is 40% smaller and 50% lighter than its predecessors.

According to the company, the FCX Clarity has a 280-mile driving range and gets 72 miles/kg-H2, which is the equivalent of 74 mpg of gasoline, based on official 2008 EPA estimated range and fuel efficiency values. The Li-ion battery pack stores additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration, supplementing power from the fuel cell when needed. And, the FCX Clarity only emits water.

“We remain firmly convinced that the hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car represents one of the best long-term solutions to the world’s growing environmental and energy concerns,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda.

The company expects to lease several dozen FCX Clarity models in the U.S. and Japan per year, totaling 200 units in the first three years. The three-year lease will cost $600 per month, targeting customers in Southern California. Honda has narrowed a list of 50,000 customers who have expressed an interest in the car to approximately 500 candidates living near publicly accessible hydrogen fueling stations in Santa Monica, Torrance, and Irvine.

These customers will have to do more than arrive at the showroom with their checkbooks in hand, though. They will have to complete a survey detailing their driving patterns, vehicle needs, vehicle storage, and financial criteria. An interview with representatives from American Honda will follow before they close the deal. Power Honda in Costa Mesa, Honda of Santa Monica, and Scott Robinson Honda of Torrance will support the program.

“Our customers and dealers share in our vision for a cleaner and more sustainable transportation future and share in our challenge to embrace a new generation of automotive technology that we think will carry the auto industry and its customers into the future,” Mendel said.

In fact, Honda already has its first five customers lined up. Ron Yerxa, a film producer and partner at Bona Fide productions, will get his FCX Clarity in July. Jon Spallino, partner and CFO of a California engineering and construction firm, will trade in his first-generation FCX for the new sedan. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis and her husband, filmmaker Christopher Guest, have signed up too. Businessman Jim Saloman and actress Laura Harris round out the initial customer list.

In addition to fuel efficiency, the FCX Clarity offers performance and luxury. Its ac synchronous electric motor outputs 134 hp and 189 lb/ft of torque (Fig. 3). The double-wishbone suspension provides a smooth ride, while its Electric Power Steering and Vehicle Stability Assist, as well as its front-wheel drive, enhance the car’s handling (Fig. 4). Its room for four includes climate-controlled seats for the driver and front passenger. The single hydrogen tank increases rear-seat and trunk space as well.



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