Honda has begun the first commercial production ever of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car.
The Japanese auto manufacturer ceremoniously launched production of its first hydrogen-powered vehicles on Sunday in Tochigi, Japan, and announced its first customers.
The four-door sedan, called the FCX Clarity, runs on electricity from a fuel cell battery that is powered by hydrogen fuel. Steam is the car's only byproduct. The car can get a combined (city and highway driving) fuel efficiency of about 72 miles per kg of H2 which, according to Honda's own estimates, is the equivalent of getting about 74 mpg on a gas-powered car. The car can be driven for about 280 miles before needing to be refueled.
While many automakers and researchers have prototypes and pilot projects using hydrogen fuel to power fuel cells on electric hybrids, or as a direct fuel source for vehicles with converted engines, there are no hydrogen-powered cars yet available for lease or purchase to the average consumer.
Honda claims it is the first company to have a hydrogen car certified for regular commercial use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"This is an important day in the history of fuel cell vehicle technology and a monumental step closer to the day when fuel cell cars will be part of the mainstream," John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement.
The car was first introduced as a concept vehicle in 2005 at the Tokyo Motor Show.
Starting in July, Honda plans to offer the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity through a lease program at three dealerships in California: Power Honda Costa Mesa, Honda of Santa Monica, and Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance. Honda also plans to make the cars available in Japan. The cars will be leased on a three-year basis for about $600 per month, according to Honda.
Among the first owners will be actor/author Jamie-Lee Curtis and her husband, filmmaker Christopher Guest of This is Spinal Tap fame.
Of course, hydrogen cars are not going to be widely driven anytime soon. Honda estimates it will lease only about 200 FCX Clarity vehicles over the next three years. In order to qualify for the lease program, would-be owners will have to meet a set of criteria that includes living within range of a hydrogen filling station, according to Honda. As part of the lease, Honda will provide any necessary service or maintenance on the vehicle.
The biggest obstacle in mass market appeal of hydrogen-powered vehicles vs. gas-electric hybrids is where owners could fill up their cars. While the U.S. Department of Energy has been a proponent of hydrogen fuel as an alternative energy for cars, there are currently few hydrogen-fuel filling stations the U.S.
There is also an ongoing debate as to whether hydrogen, a fuel that requires large amounts of electricity to be produced, is truly energy efficient when its entire food chain is taken into consideration.