Fuel-cell electric vehicle concepts are all the rage right now, with several concept models being unveiled simultaneously at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show and Tokyo Motor Show. Fuel-cell vehicles operate electrically, but instead of using a battery charged with electricity from a land source like a power grid, the car generates its own electricity using onboard hydrogen.
In order to "recharge" a fuel-cell car, one simply refills the hydrogen tank. Simply is an oxymoron, however, as hydrogen filling stations are extremely rare around the country, with only Southern California really pushing to expand their availability to the public. However, Honda believes that the time is right to start preparing for the arrival of such an infrastructure and plans to be ready for it with production-ready FCEVs.
Honda chose L.A. to unveil its Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicle Concept, which the company says foreshadows its next production vehicle arriving in 2015. Honda's current FCEV is the FCX Clarity, which was leased to a select group of California drivers as a research tool and is now ready for replacement.
While the Honda FCEV Concept's name may not be all that interesting, the shape certainly is. A swoopy, highly futuristic looking design with covered rear wheel spats, the small midsize four-door is obviously styled to maximize aerodynamic efficiency. If Honda keeps to its previous track record with the FCX Clarity and how it appeared versus its concept, the production version arriving in 2015 will resemble the car seen here, but will be considerably toned down to enhance practicality.
While the concept car presented in L.A. was basically a styling exercise without running gear or an interior, Honda did release some details about its upcoming powertrain. The car will use Honda's next-generation state-of-the-art fuel-cell stack, which the company says will be the first production car to house the entire fuel-cell powertrain in the engine compartment. The new fuel-cell module is 33 percent smaller than the one in the FCX Clarity, but is nearly 60 percent more powerful, producing more than 100 kilowatts of electricity. The onboard hydrogen storage tank will be refillable in just three minutes and will enable a range of more than 300 miles, according to Honda.
There's no word yet on what the car will cost or who will be eligible to get one, but if Honda sticks with the program it used for the current FCX Clarity, it will likely only be available for lease to select customers in Southern California. The idea behind fuel-cell cars seems reasonable, but the infrastructure problems that remain in creating refueling stations around the country mean that widespread acceptance of the technology is still a long way off. Look for more production-ready versions of the FCEV Concept to appear in upcoming auto shows.