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Getting Off Oil

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Honda’s Decisive Clarity Steals LA Auto Show

November 14th 2007

Honda Clarity Fueling
Honda's new Clarity

American Honda Motor Company stole the Los Angeles Auto Show with decisive clarity today. Shortly after show doors opened, the company announced the summer 2008 initial rollout of its sleek, new and tantalizing four-passenger zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. The long-awaited, market-ready hydrogen car, called “Clarity,” will use zero oil and feature zero emissions.

No longer experimental, the Honda FCX Clarity is powered by a breakthrough, “V Flow” fuel cell stack that delivers vastly increased power and range over previous FCX hydrogen models. The FCX Clarity utilizes its V Flow stack in combination with a new compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack and a single hydrogen storage tank to power the vehicle's electric drive motor. Hydrogen combines with atmospheric oxygen in the fuel cell stack, where chemical energy from the reaction is converted into electric power to propel the vehicle. Additional energy captured through regenerative braking and deceleration is stored in the lithium ion battery pack. It is used to supplement power from the fuel cell when needed. The vehicle's only emission is water. Indeed, the company invites drivers to drink the exhaust, and has even distributed novelty drinking glasses to drive home the point.

The Clarity offers a record new range of around 270 miles to the hydrogen tank. Thunderous power wielded beneath its low-slung, sophisticated appearance makes this car a stylish contender for the average demanding car enthusiast. That is the plan--to make the Clarity a compelling vehicle as well as an environmental and petropolitical must.

Still pursuing a frustratingly incremental track, Honda plans a five-year market introduction that will confine the Clarity to the greater Los Angeles area, where hydrogen stations and customary dealer maintenance can be congregated. In its home distribution areas, the Clarity will instantly become mainstream with ordinary dealer sales and service. Carefully chosen drivers will lease the vehicle for $600 monthly, which includes maintenance and collision insurance. That all makes sense from a conservative market and manufacturing sense. But everything will have to be fast tracked if the nation spirals into a horrific petropolitical or petroterrorist crisis that reduces gasoline availability by thirty to forty percent as some scenarios predict. Should that happen, Honda and the country will have no choice but to accelerate the hydrogen car’s proliferation. If oil becomes suddenly scarce or unaffordable, the nation will demand hydrogen cars coast to coast—not just Southern California.

Currently, the number of hydrogen cars to be produced have not been announced for the Southern California rollout. Honda is still inhaling the market indicators.

Eventually, the Clarity will be fueled by Honda’s Home Energy Station, still rushing to become more reliable. The refueling box, about the size of a large bedroom bureau, reforms ordinary oven gas--that is, CNG--into the hydrogen needed to power the entire home and fuel the vehicle. Plug Power of New York makes the standalone fueling station, but Honda controls it through licensing arrangements.

Honda executives were ebullient.  "The FCX Clarity is a shining symbol of the progress we've made with fuel cell vehicles and of our belief in the promise of this technology," said Tetsuo Iwamura, American Honda president and CEO. "Step by step, with continuous effort, commitment and focus, we are working to overcome obstacles to the mass-market potential of zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell automobiles."

To make the vehicle work right, nothing less than an automotive engineering feat was required. Clarity's revolutionary new design packages the ultra-compact and lightweight Honda V Flow fuel cell stack (65 percent smaller than the previous Honda FC stack) in the vehicle's center tunnel, between the two front seats. Taking advantage of a completely new cell configuration, the vertically-oriented stack achieves an output of 100 kilowatts (versus 86kW in the current Honda FC stack) with a 50 percent increase in output density by volume (67 percent by mass). Its compact size allows for a more spacious interior and more efficient packaging of other powertrain components.

The car’s four-door sedan platform features a short-nose body and spacious cabin with comfortable accommodations for four passengers and luggage. The Clarity even features seat upholstery and door linings made of Honda Bio-Fabric -- a newly-developed, plant-based material crafted with CO2 reductions as an alternative to traditional interior materials, along with durability and resistance to wear, stretching, and damage from sunlight. The car is also equipped with a full compliment of advanced safety, comfort and convenience features, including a state-of-the-art navigation system embedded with hydrogen station locations, plus climate-controlled seats, a backup camera, premium audio, and Bluetooth(TM) connectivity.

Few from the geeky green world expected this much this soon and in so sleek and sexy a sedan.

Honda’s bold new summer 2008 rollout stood in stark contrast to a pathetic press release by Ford Motor Co. issued moments before, The long, ponderous press document used as many words as possible in contorted compound sentences to explain just this: the floundering carmaker is still struggling to plan its alt fuel future. In the meantime, Ford will continue making gas guzzlers with no clear hydrogen path or promise. As Ford elongates its petroliferous obsolescence, Honda is quickly racing toward a hydrogen future, and with clarity.


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