Whilst EVs and hybrids remain the vanguard of green motoring technology, there is a third alternative to the petrol and diesel mainstream out there. We refer to the hydrogen fuel cell, for many years the lesser-spotted black-sheep of the eco-friendly vehicle family. Leading the way in this area of research and development are the Japanese motoring giants, one of which, Toyota, has already confirmed its intentions to bring a hydrogen-powered car to market soon. The Mirai, as Toyota’s upcoming fuel cell saloon will be christened, now has company from over the way at Honda.
Honda has pedigree in the fuel cell department, having previously brought the FCX Clarity to market in 2008, albeit in miniscule numbers. While that model was made available on a lease basis throughout Japan, parts of California and Europe, a dearth of hydrogen filling stations across all regions severely restricted the horizons of that zero-emissions saloon.
With the passing of time, hydrogen technology has not just simply disappeared – far from it. Honda’s research and development of the fuel cell has continued unabated, culminating in the announcement at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show that an all new Clarity FCV will be ready for release as early as 2016.
The aforementioned technological strides in fuel cell production since the debut of the original Clarity mean that the 2016 model will benefit from a goodly amount of upgrades and improvements. Honda’s successful downsizing of the fuel cell stack and power generation unit, which now equates roughly to the size of a traditional V6 engine, has enabled engineers to relocate the entire powertrain system to the front of the car. As the world’s first fuel cell saloon to adopt such a layout, the 5-door Clarity makes significant gains in cabin spaciousness over its predecessor.
What’s more, the more compact powertrain, which also incorporates a lithium-ion battery pack, now yields more power than before with a maximum output of 175bhp. The nature of fuel cell technology also eliminates the need for a traditional transmission system, with smooth acceleration on tap anywhere from zero to maximum speed and a similarly constant increase in torque. Performance output on the Clarity FCV can be toggled from ‘Normal’ to ‘Sport’ mode for an extra squirt of acceleration when required.
Range is the other chief beneficiary of the new development breakthroughs at Honda, with the new Clarity capable of up to 435miles on a single tank – almost double that of the previous model. Additionally, in the space of just three minutes, the hydrogen storage tank can be fully replenished and the Clarity back on the road.
Of course, the lack of such a filling facility is precisely what has historically shackled the fuel cell car. In Britain, Honda has worked with local suppliers to establish a solar-powered hydrogen refuelling station in the grounds of its Swindon HQ that is open to the public and equipped to refuel any fuel cell vehicle. Not ideal news for potential Scottish customers admittedly, nevertheless other ports of call are out there (including several stations in Glasgow). Ultimately, it must be acknowledged that, if the UK’s network of EV charging points is still in its infancy, its fuel cell equivalent has barely reached the embryonic phase.
The slender exterior profile of the new Honda Clarity is marked by full-LED headlights and 18-inch aluminium wheels, whilst inside, the bright and spacious cabin will comfortably seat five adults.
The Clarity Fuel Cell will be made available to commercial customers in Japan from early 2016, with further info on European launch dates expected soon after its Asian debut.