The cars we loved.
Car makers are always coming up with new designs and methods in the race to build the next green car. Right now hybrids and electrics seem to be all the rage, with nearly every major manufacturer rolling out at least one alternative fuel model. A few years ago hydrogen was the concept of the moment and captured the public’s imagination (if only for a short time) with the promise of zero emissions. It was easy to see why. Hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements on earth and makes no pollution when burned.
Sure hydrogen had its benefits, but there were nagging concerns like the fear of fires (thanks petro lobby) and a reluctance to bear the cost of building a fueling infrastructure (Republicans). Yet officials in Japan, Europe and Southern California were undeterred. In and around the Los Angeles area, a partnership moved forward with a small series of fueling stations. Honda had developed similar stations in Japan while in Europe parallel developments were made in anticipation of the popularity of future hydrogen models.
With Mercedes was an exception, few big car companies seemed willing to commit any affordable hydrogen powered models to production, except Honda. Honda displayed prototypes as early as 1999, each growing in size and looking more like production ready cars. The current production car evolved from the 2006 concept, the FCX-V3. The sleek front wheel drive sedan fit nicely between the Civic and the Accord sizewise, but had styling that would influence both of them in later years.
The cab forward wedge design was futuristic, yet still identifiable as a Honda. At four inches shorter than the Accord, the FCX has compact dimensions, aiding in manuravibility. The futuristic theme continued inside with a dash that can only be compared to a spaceship’s helm. Multiple screens displayed all the regular car status data as LED displays with a fuel use gauge represented as a series of dots that would change color. Beyond the dash, the FCX it looked much like any other well-appointed Honda interior. Honda takes a loss on the lease of each FCX, but the notoriety of giving customers nearly all the current choices in efficient car options earned the company high marks with environmental agencies and activists types. The FCX just might be the most acclaimed Honda you never heard of.
The FCX’s main mission is efficiency, but as a Honda in the age of wishboneless rear suspensions, could it still mean fun to drive? It’s high torque fuel cell electric motor generated 134 hp, making acceleration brisk, where a typical Civic would have felt sluggish with a gasoline engine. An energy distribution system called Honda vertical Flow (V Flow) supplied power on demand by using waste energy from braking captured and stored in a b288V lithium-ion unit. The few accounts of media coverage of the car’s performance suggest that it has much of the driving character of a Civic. That’s good or bad depending on if you were a big fan of the double wishbone Hondas of the past.
The FCX, like most contemporary Hondas has a double wishbone front and multi-link rear independent suspension. It’s no sports sedan, but the compliant ride and the sheer quietness in the cabin gives it the feeling of luxury. The FCX has a driving range of about 240 miles with a miles per kilogram rating of 60 (for the highway or city). That’s about 61 mpg as a gasoline equivalent, but limits the FCX’s practical appeal to mostly inner city trips and errands within range of any of the 26 or so fueling stations around Southern California and the San Francisco area. FCX drivers have the added benefit of being able to use their cars as a home energy station, providing back up power to their homes through sophisticated fuel cell cogeneration process for up to 6 hours.
The FCX Clarity was initially available as a lease only, being limited to only 50 customers in the US. The city of Los Angles (the largest single customer in the US) was among the first in America, prompting the development of a fueling infrastructure. Later the general public would be selectively invited to sign a 3 year lease. The $600 a month plan included collision coverage, maintenance, roadside assistance and hydrogen fuel. For now the FCX comes in any color you want as long as it’s the dark red “star garnet” hue. Honda continually refines the FCX with the most current model called the Clarity FCEV boasting 5% more efficiency than the 2005 model. Honda hopes to eventually expand the number of leases in America to 200 over the next few years. There are already customers in New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Honda hopes to use FCX technology in it’s more mainstream cars by 2018.