Episode 44: Expert examines Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

James Raia

Driving from Northern California to Southern California and back has been routine in recent years. The 800-mile round-trip trek along Interstate 5 is always interesting, particularly when driving a 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.

Six weeks ago was the most unusual trek I’ve taken from Sacramento to the Los Angeles region (this time to Long Beach) because I drove the sedan that runs on hydrogen.

The 2017 and 2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell are available for lease in California.
The 2017 and 2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell are available for lease in California.

From the expediency of refueling to the performance of the Clarity and from the use of the High Occupancy Lane as a single occupant to running out of hydrogen were all part of the unique experience. The Clarity won me over quickly.

I wrote my syndicated automotive for Bay Area News Group, Autopia, about my experiences with the Clarity, and I received several critical letters.

Steve Ellis is the manager of fuel cell marketing for Honda, and he has also had several other responsibilities in the alternative fuel industry. Before my trip, Ellis provided a map of the hydrogen charging stations for my trip and other details. He was instrumental in helping me after I ran out of hydrogen on my return trip.

Ellis is our guest on Episode 44 of The Weekly Driver Podcast. Co-host Bruce Aldrich and I discuss the Honda Clarity and its three trims, hydrogen, electric and hybrid. We also discuss hydrogen’s future in the automotive world, and I ask Steve to address the concerns of three readers of my column. I’ve printed their email letters below (without the authors’ names).

1. I was not able to find a contact address on the True Zero website, the hydrogen source for the Honda Clarity. I think True Zero is a very misleading name for your source since two-thirds of the hydrogen provided is from fossil fuel sources. So long as this is the case, True Zero is simply false as a name for this company. We know hydrogen can be produced from water, but so long as the process depends on fossil fuels, as it does for the bulk of the hydrogen from True Zero, then it is not a solution to fossil fuel-driven climate change.

A useful article would be one comparing total emissions from plug-in electric vehicles fueled by solar panels with currently available hydrogen-powered vehicles powered primarily by fossil fuels. I’ve driven a plug-in electric Ford Focus since 2012. If more of us did this, we’d see much cleaner air in the SF Bay Area and fewer children would suffer from asthma.

2. In the Drive section of the San Jose Mercury-News May 27, 2018, the headline reads “Honda Clarity Fuel Cell thrives on water.” This is very wrong. It is as bad as saying that humans thrive on urine. To thrive on something should mean to do well as a result of it. This fuel cell does not use water as fuel; it uses hydrogen. It emits water as a waste product.

Even if you try to justify it by saying that hydrogen is made from water, the water does not supply the energy. Something else (typically electricity) supplies the energy to make hydrogen from water.

3. I drive a (Chevy) Volt and read with interest your article which appeared today in the SJ Mercury. However, when I did the math I wondered what I was missing. You said you drove 221 miles on 3.658 kilos at a cost of $60.19. My math shows that the fuel cost was .27 per mile. Assume a Prius getting 50 miles per gallon and a fuel cost of $4.00 per gallon. That comes to $.08 per mile. The cost of the Clarity is over 3X the Prius.

So while I would love to see fuel cell cars succeed, how can anyone be expected to buy a Clarity other than because she or he loves the environment and wants to make a statement? While I think the article was great on describing the vehicle, don’t you believe you need to make these points to your readers who may not think through how the economics compare?

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Article Last Updated: June 29, 2018.

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