Honda’s FCX: Out-Priusing the Prius

by Richard T. Stuebi

While the Toyota Prius is the current “must-have” of the “green” community, Honda (NYSE: HMC) is aiming to trump Toyota (NYSE: TM) in the eco-friendly car derby.

Recently, Honda announced that it will commercially-unveil a fuel cell vehicle aimed for U.S. drivers, the FCX — not 10 years from now, not 5 years from now, not in 2010, but in 2008. Yes, that’s right: next year, a fuel cell car will be offered by a major auto manufacturer in the U.S.

Last Friday, the USA Today wrote an enthusiastic review after test-driving a prototype FCX. They raved about pretty much everything — from acceleration, to quietness, to interior size, to its styling, to carbon-neutral seat fabrics. It did seem like a pretty nifty car — even more Prius-like than the Prius itself.

Only in passing did the story mention the big bugaboo: where will drivers get the hydrogen to operate the car? Clearly, the main initial market for the FCX will be in California, where a significant effort called the Hydrogen Highway Network is underway to build hydrogen fueling stations across the state.

I’m encouraged by Honda’s decision to introduce a fuel cell car in the U.S. market. I have to admit that I’ve been somewhat pessimistic about fuel cell vehicles for a variety of reasons — not only hydrogen availability on the road, but also hydrogen production economics and environmental issues, fuel cell economics and reliability, and customer acceptance of a new fuel and prime mover for their cars.

Honda acknowledges that the FCX is not going to be accepted or acceptable to the mass-market upon release: production will not be in the millions, and no doubt the self-selecting trial customers will experience some hassles and nuisances that most customers wouldn’t be willing to endure. However, the commitment of Honda to such a public test fleet indicates that they are true believers in the long-term potential for fuel cell vehicles.

If Honda leads the way in tackling the vehicular challenges for fuel cells, and California sets the example on how to roll out hydrogen infrastructure, then it remains for some major player to solve the remaining obstacle to the hydrogen economy: production of hydrogen from renewable energy sources (i.e., carbon-free and limitless fuel) at economically reasonable terms. Who’s it gonna be?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

6 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    As a Prius owner, I will trade my car in for a 2008 Honda FCX in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. The proviso is not the new FCX, rather the availability of Honda’s HES III home fueling station that comes along with the car. When Honda makes both available outside CA, I'll drive my ZERO EMISSIONS 2008 FCX 2008 over its 350 mile driving range, refuel it when needed hooked up to my new HES III refueling station that will be attached to the house. When the HES III is not fueling the FCX (takes about 15 minutes), this home power station (source fuel: NG) will be reducing my overall electricity and natural gas energy bill by 50% – per Honda. Best of all, I'll never visit a gas station again. So sign me up Honda, and I’ll say goodbye to Toyota…

  2. Jim Nail
    Jim Nail says:

    Great jump on the publicity bandwagon, but it is still far from a production vehicle, if USAToday's estimate that it costs $500,000 to make is accurate. There are still many year of roadtesting and refining the technology to make it a mass product. Kudos to Honda for pushing as hard and as fast as they are, but don't get too excited yet.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Can anyone talk to Honda and let them know my generation will grab onto anything like the FCX that is quasi attractive! They can do it! I got so excited when I read your blog… then I googled FCX and saw a picture. Thanks but no thanks,20 something

  4. Mark Sheppard
    Mark Sheppard says:

    I can't help but think that the auto companies could have done better if there attitude toward electric cars more closely resembled Honda's PR efforts with the FCX. I still see the plug-in electric as the more feasible technology, but the big corporations don't want them to succeed. with hydrogen, you still have to fill up with someone's fuel.

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