As Mitsubishi Motors will confirm, being the first to market isn’t always the best strategy when it comes to the automotive world. Despite launching its iMiev electric car in Japan in late 2009, the four-seat electric city car soon lost its appeal when rival automaker Nissan launched the larger, more practical (and similarly-priced) Nissan LEAF hatchback nearly a year later.
In a similar vein, Honda, which had the honor of being the first automaker to bring a hybrid car to the U.S. in the form of the two-seat, ultra-efficient first-generation Insight back in December 1999, found itself lagging behind in hybrid car sales just seven months later when its rival Toyota introduced the more practical, five-seat Prius sedan to the U.S. market. In short, being first to market with a new car or new technology doesn’t mean an automaker is going to dominate the marketplace.
And if we’re honest, that’s a lesson we think both Toyota and Hyundai are about to learn at the hands of Honda, whose 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan has just been given an official EPA rating of 366-miles per fill of its high-pressure twin hydrogen fuel tanks. This means that Honda’s new fuel cell vehicle, which already seats five people rather than the four-person occupancy of the Mirai, can also travel 51 miles further per fill than the Mirai.
It’s also more than the Hyundai Tucson, the first hydrogen fuel cell car to go on sale in the U.S. It manages just 246 miles per fill of its on-board hydrogen fuel tanks, although we should note for fairness’ sake that it is a low-volume vehicle based on the previous-generation internal combustion engined Hyundai Tucson, not a brand-new vehicle designed from the ground up to be a hydrogen fuel cell car.
Compared to its predecessor, the Honda Clarity FCX, Honda says the 2017 Honda Clarity features a hydrogen fuel cell stack that is 33 percent more compact than its predecessor. Unlike its predecessor, which stored its fuel cell stack in the centre of the vehicle underneath the center console unit, the smaller fuel cell stack can fit under the hood alongside the 100 kilowatt electric motor that provides motive power to the wheels. In addition to being smaller than Honda’s previous-generation fuel cell stack, Honda says the Clarity’s fuel cell stack is 60 percent more powerful too, making for a more enjoyable (and less labored) driving experience.
Honda is careful to note too that the Clarity’s 366-mile EPA-approved range makes it the longest-range electric vehicle on sale today, beating even the Tesla Model S P100D when it comes to long-range capability. Rather than a large lithium-ion battery pack as its energy storage medium, it just happens to use compressed hydrogen instead.
But while Honda can legitimately claim the crown as the longest-range zero tailpipe emission electrified vehicle on sale today, Tesla’s flagship electric sedan still makes the smarter choice when it comes to long-range road trips, even if it works out substantially more than the Honda Clarity.
That’s because when the Honda Clarity goes on sale shortly, it will only be available at just a dozen dealerships across California. Moreover, you won’t necessarily even get one if you head to one of those twelve dealerships and hand over the expected $60,000 list price in cold, hard cash. Instead, Honda is expected to carefully vet prospective owners to ensure that their lifestyle is compatible with the Clarity. You’ll also need to live within easy reach of a compatible hydrogen filling station, otherwise refueling trips could zap some of your usable range. And unlike a battery electric car, there’s not topping up at home.
Honda has yet to reveal final pricing or specifications for the U.S. market version of the Clarity, although it has said it expects most customers to lease, rather than buy to help offset the high sticker price associated with its first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car.
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