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Future models - Honda - Clarity FCV

Tokyo show: Honda confirms Clarity name

Clear vision: Honda’s Clarity FCV has a driving range of more than 700km and a smaller fuel-cell stack that is housed under the bonnet.

Honda Clarity FCV offers high-tech luxury motoring but it won’t make it to Australia

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Honda logo2 Nov 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

HONDA has confirmed that its latest fuel-cell-powered vehicle will take the Clarity name, but the high-tech green machine is unlikely to be offered in Australia any time soon.

Known as the Honda FCV until Honda president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo announced the official name on the stand at the Tokyo motor show this week, the fuel-cell vehicle brings back the name Honda has used since the FCX Clarity was launched in Japan in 2008.

Speaking with GoAuto at Honda’s Tochigi research and development centre, Honda Australia director Stephen Collins said the car-maker faces the same issues as other companies that have produced an FCV in making them viable in Australia.

“I think the infrastructure is the issue,” he said. “On many levels it makes sense. Of course we have got the technology to deliver it. It’s on our radar, but I don’t think it is on the short-term radar.”

South Korean car-maker Hyundai has detailed its ix35 Fuel Cell SUV that is available in some European markets, while Toyota recently launched its Mirai FCV in Japan as well as parts of Europe and the United States.

While the Mirai has not been confirmed for Australia, the company’s president Dave Buttner told GoAuto at a recent Australian viewing of the car that Toyota sees the commercial sector as the best way to start a wider roll out of the tech Down Under.

Mr Collins said the lack of government incentives and infrastructure means the Clarity – which is due to launch in Japan in Spring, 2016 – is off the agenda for Australia for now.

“Of course we don’t have commercial side of the business (like Toyota) or any simple model for that side. I think for us it is a bit of a wait-and-see. But again it is like a lot of the alternative tech like EVs, the infrastructure is not there. There are no government incentives to drive it, which makes it pretty tough.”

Mr Collins said the lines with government were “constantly open” via the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) in relation to alternative fuels, and added that Honda has had discussions with Toyota and Hyundai about their hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

“I think where there can be collaboration to set a clearer direction and I guess also from an infrastructure viewpoint, we have had conversations and we will continue to have conversations with those two and any other manufacturers that are interested.”

Mr Collins declined to nominate a time in the future when the Clarity could be viable in Australia.

“I’d love to, but I couldn’t give you one. Whether in the future we can bring some in in very small volume and bring in some of the small (hydrogen) stations and so forth, it’s possible but we haven’t got a date in mind.”

Honda president and CEO Takahiro Hachigo announced the Clarity FCV moniker on the stand at the Tokyo motor show, highlighting the company’s history of using the technology, including the original FCX three-door hatch from 2002 and predicted a big future for the model.

“We believe that this sedan model could set a new benchmark for FCVs,” he said.

A senior Honda engineer told GoAuto at the Tochigi test track that while he could not divulge the car’s kerb weight, the new Clarity is heavier than the old model, given the additional technology, but is only slightly heavier than the 1850kg Mirai.

The technology underpinning the Clarity could also be adapted to other models, including SUVs and minivans, according to the engineer.

Honda is working with General Motors to develop its next generation of fuel-cell technology, with each company offering the powertrain under completely separate models. The first production model is scheduled for a 2020 launch.

GoAuto was given the opportunity to drive the new Clarity FCV in prototype guise at Honda’s Tochigi research and development centre ahead of the Tokyo motor show.

The Clarity is a big car in dimensions and in the metal, measuring 4895mm long, 1875mm wide and 1475mm high, making it about the size of a Ford Mondeo hatch.

It has a busy front end, with L-shape daytime running lights that are incorporated into the bumper in a similar fashion to Renault’s next-gen Megane.

There is a hint of the Citroen DS5 at the front, as well.

The Clarity has acres of interior space, with the sloping roofline not impeding headroom in any way. There is more legroom in the rear than in a Legend sedan, and the width ensures room for three adults across the back seat – meaning one more occupant than Toyota’s Mirai.

Honda has improved cabin space dramatically by housing the fuel-cell stack – which is 33 per cent smaller than the previous Clarity’s unit – under the bonnet for the first time, thanks to a more compact powertrain.

The battery sits under the cabin, and while the large hydrogen tank still has an impact on luggage space as it sits behind the rear-seat backrest, Honda claims it has the largest boot out of any fuel-cell vehicle.

The total motor output for the Clarity is 130kW and 300Nm and output density for the fuel-cell stack is 3.1kw/L, it can be refueled in about three minutes and it uses a lithium-ion battery to store the energy.

Honda says it has a driving range of more than 700km, beating the Mirai’s 550km and the ix35’s 600km.

Our time behind the wheel was brief, consisting of one lap of a 500-metre circuit, but our quick burn was enough to appreciate the millions of dollars in R&D that has been poured into the car.

Much like the Mirai, the cabin is luxurious and features high-quality materials with an appealing dash layout and fake wood paneling. The Clarity feels like a high-end offering, and given its price point in Japan is ¥7.66 million ($A89,000), it should have a premium feel.

Off the line acceleration is instant – much like other electric vehicles – and apart from an exhaust noise at higher speeds, it is ultra quiet too.

Steering is sharp and weighted on the heavy side, and the Clarity has strong brakes that use regenerative technology to store energy.

By offering cars such as the Clarity and the Mirai, Honda and Toyota are pushing each other to produce better FCVs, which will only benefit the consumer in the long-term.

If the infrastructure existed and there were incentives to purchase an environmentally friendly car, a vehicle such as the Clarity, and indeed the Mirai – would hold a lot of appeal to Australian consumers.

Watch this space.

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