Hydrogen hopes

As the shadows lengthen across the nation’s forecourts, a rosier vision of motoring was yesterday unveiled by Japanese car giant Honda, which took the wraps off its FCX Clarity, billed as world’s first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell car.

Emitting nothing more polluting than water, and doing 280 miles on a full tank, the sporty looking sedan – which uses a fuel cell to charge batteries for driving an electric motor – sounds like just the ticket.

But before you go rushing down to your latest Honda dealer, there are a couple of caveats. Firstly, although Honda has developed a method that allows users to produce their own hydrogen from natural gas, it hasn’t seriously cracked the great infrastructure / versus vehicle debate that’s the hydrogen economy’s very own chicken and egg scenario.

Also, the company only plans on producing 200 of the vehicles over the next three years, which will be leased to customers in Japan and the US. A number of the usual Hollywood eco-set are already reported to be putting their names down.

While it’s certainly one step on from a concept car, it’s misleading at such low volumes, to describe the FCX Clarity as a production vehicle. Perhaps the Engineer could be permitted the creation of a new piece of automotive jargon by calling it a “Pro-cept car.’

And certainly, while Honda hasn’t suddenly succeeded in bringing Hydrogen powered motoring to the masses, it has, in much the same way that Morgan’s hydrogen powered LifeCar did earlier this year, cranked up the awareness levels another notch.

Critically, Honda is also now in a position to gear up to full mass production when the infrastructure does catch up. This means that its rivals won’t want to get left behind, and it could, feasibly, spark just the kind of domino effect that’s needed to breathe confidence into the hydrogen economy.

Jon Excell, features editor