Southern California, for all it’s smog (and trust me it still hangs in the San Fernando ‘Valley’ twenty-four seven) it still regarded as the automotive ‘Green’ capital of the world, when it comes to big cities.
There are also thousands of Toyota Prius’ within the California state lines and while they are certainly classified as ‘environmentally friendly’ the ‘Green’ star must surely go to Honda’s FCX Clarity.
Launched in 2008, the Clarity is a proper fuel cell electric vehicle with zero emissions and in some cases, offers 5 minute refuelling times. The other more important news is that the 26 lucky Honda Clarity customers, who lease the car for a grand total of US$600 per month, never have to worry about the price of petrol, regardless of what happens in the Middle East. You see – hydrogen is free. At least, for the time being it is.
FCX Clarity drivers now have access to seven ‘fast-fill’ hydrogen refuelling stations throughout Southern California and last Friday, the world’s first station supplied by an existing hydrogen pipeline opened across the street from Toyota’s Motor Corp’s sales division.
The new Royal Dutch Shell hydrogen station will mainly service test fleets from the likes of Toyota (who incidentally lease the land to Shell), Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co and General Motors and of course, those fortunate Honda Clarity drivers.
Honda hopes to have at least 200 FCX Clarity cars on the road within a few years. In traffic congested place like Los Angeles, there is an even greater benefit to driving this ultra green Honda. The deal is that fuel cell vehicles get an automatic ‘white sticker’, which qualifies them to travel in the transit lanes (high occupancy lanes) and that goes for a single driver with no passengers.
It’s a great deal if you can get it, but if it’s that good, why aren’t there thousands of them on the road all over the world?
It’s a question of dollars – they cost plenty to build and it’s likely that Honda looses money on each and every Clarity they make.
Five years ago, Ford said that their fuel cell Focus cost $1 million to build although, Toyota said this year, that the actual costs have come down by 90 percent, which would mean US$100,000, but that’s still way out of the ball park for average consumers.
That said Toyota says that they also plan to release their own fuel cell model by 2015 at a cost of around US$50,000. It makes huge sense when you weigh up the benefits. Hydrogen can be made from natural gas or water, you can refill your car in minutes with a range of several hundred kilometres or more and the clincher, and there are no exhaust emissions.
Whichever way you cut it, the only sustainable fuel model for the global automotive industry is hydrogen fuel cells. The Hybrids and electric plug-in vehicles are simply stop/gap solutions while the collective technology partners work it all out on the fuel cell front.