Honda FCX Clarity: Beauty for Beauty's Sake

Honda's striking, amazing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle may be the most expensive, advanced and impractical car ever built.
By Dan Neil
I've driven lots of cars. I've wallowed like a Russian oligarch pig in the gorgeous mud of a $1.6-million Bugatti Veyron. I've spit tailpipe fire across the midnight Mojave at the wheel of a Lamborghini. I've brushed gape-mouthed peasants aside with the chrome cowcatcher grille of a Rolls Royce Phantom.

Yet I have never driven a car half as advanced, as futuristic, as blind-with-science as the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
Nor one so expensive. More on that in a moment.

But first, let's get this out of the way: Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won't work in cars. It's a tragic cul-de-sac in the search for sustainable mobility, being used to game the California Air Resources Board's rules requiring carmakers to build zero-emission vehicles. Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars.
Face it: Fuel-cell technology has been eclipsed by vastly cheaper, here-now advances in batteries and plug-in electric vehicles. To knit together even the barest network of H2 refueling stations would cost billions. And, in any case, the fuel itself, whether produced by cracking natural gas or hydrolyzing water (consult your freshman chemistry texts), represents a horrible energy return on investment.
Some illustrative math: It takes about 60 kilowatt-hours of electricity to gin a kilogram of hydrogen from water. The FCX Clarity's tank holds about 4 kilograms of H2 and that gives it a range of about 270 miles on 240 kWhs.
The all-electric Tesla Roadster has a 53-kWh lithium-ion battery and a range of 220 miles. So the Tesla's per-mile costs in electricity are roughly one-quarter what they are in the FCX Clarity.
Should hydrogen partisans care to debate these questions -- and go down like Zeros over the Mariana Islands -- I'll meet you on the field on honor. Calculators at dawn.
If any other company but Honda trotted this thing out, I'd barf with skepticism. But Honda is dead earnest about hydrogen, and it is only its relentless, year-after-year improvement in this technology, and the extraordinary treasure Honda throws at it, that makes me think that the company knows something I don't -- well, that and the army of PhDs at its command.



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