Unreliable hydrogen filling infrastructure is causing headaches for early adopters.

Honda Details 2018 Plug-in Hybrid Based on Upcoming Clarity FCV at Pre-Tokyo Tech Breifing

Later this week at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda will unveil its production hydrogen fuel cell sedan for the first time. Offering a range of around 700 kilometers (434 miles) on the highly optimistic Japanese JC08 test cycle, the vehicle — which will inherit the Clarity name badge from Honda’s limited-production fuel cell prototype — is Honda’s answer to the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell sedan and will go on sale some time next year.

Honda's new FCV will also give rise to a plug-in hybrid variant.

Honda’s new FCV will also give rise to a plug-in hybrid variant.

Ahead of its official unveiling, Honda held a special preview event at its Research and Development track at Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. There, in addition to granting extremely short periods behind the wheel of the Clarity FCV, Honda leaked more information about its next plug-in vehicle – 2018 model-year plug-in hybrid sedan with a range of over 40 miles.

As Autobloggreen‘s Sebastian Blanco details, time given to each journalist behind the wheel of the upcoming hydrogen fuel cell sedan was extremely brief, making it tough to truly discern what the vehicle was capable of. Aside from a reference to two drive modes (one sportier than the other), reporting that the regenerative braking was not powerful enough for one-pedal driving, and a passing note acknowledging a touch-screen infotainment system and LandWatch driver assistance features, Blanco has little else to report.

The Honda Clarity's interior is businesslike, and high-spec

The Honda Clarity’s interior is businesslike, and high-spec

But it was after the test drive when Honda engineers let slip some exciting news about the future of Honda’s plug-in program, namely that it will use the same chassis and underpinnings found in the upcoming hydrogen fuel cell vehicle as the basis for a 2018 model-year plug-in hybrid. The fact that there’s a plug-in hybrid in the works isn’t news to us, but the fact that it will share the same underpinnings as the FCV vehicle is.

We first told you about the potential of a longer-range plug-in hybrid from Honda back in June, when Honda announced it was dumping its CNG and hybrid Civic models, as well as the plug-in hybrid Accord sedan from its 2016 lineup. At the time, John Mendel, Executive Vice President of  the Automobile Division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc, said that the outgoing Honda Accord plug-in hybrid was suffering poor sales, alluding to the limited all-electric range offered by the car when compared to other vehicles on the market.

Instead, he promised, Honda would bring a brand-new plug-in hybrid following the roll-out of the 2016 Honda Clarity, as well as a brand-new all-electric model.

While we’ve yet to hear about the proposed platform on which the all-electric model will be built, it’s worth noting that the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle Honda is bringing to market has been designed with battery packs in mind. That’s because any hydrogen fuel cell vehicle needs to accommodate not only the hydrogen fuel cell stack, electric motor and hydrogen fuel cell tanks but also a traction battery pack which is used to store excess electrical power generated by the fuel cell stack.

The previous Honda Accord plug-in hybrid managed just 13 miles per charge.

The previous Honda Accord plug-in hybrid managed just 13 miles per charge.

In the production Honda fuel cell sedan, Honda proudly notes that there’s room in the trunk for three full-size golf bags, thanks to improvements in fuel cell technology that make it possible for the entire hydrogen fuel cell stack and the electric motor used to provide motive power to live next to each other under the hood.

Meanwhile, a small hydrogen fuel cell tank sits under the rear seats, while a larger one sits behind the rear seats at the front of the trunk.
The rest of the power electronics — and the lithium-ion battery pack — sits underneath the car’s floor — the best position for a low centre of gravity, excellent handling and improved cabin space.

Given that the chassis used on the Honda FCV has been designed specifically to accommodate a battery pack under the floor, it makes logical sense that a plug-in hybrid model could use the same chassis, replacing the hydrogen fuel cell stack with an efficient, small-capacity gasoline engine and the hydrogen fuel cell tanks with a conventional gasoline tank.

Thanks to that careful engineering and an improvement in battery pack capacity, Honda says it is looking at a three-fold increase in all-electric range for its 2018 model-year plug-in hybrid. Given the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid managed a paltry 13 miles per charge according to EPA estimates, expect 40+ miles from Honda’s new plug-in hybrid, as well as a claimed higher all-electric top speed.

Sadly, there’s no news of the platform Honda will use for its promised all-electric model, but we’d guess it will likely be of similar size to the limited-production Honda Fit EV. That car, produced in small numbers under duress by Honda to satisfy zero emission requirements in California, was so popular with buyers that Honda now offers used cars on lease to those who are desperate to own one.


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