Honda's FCX Clarity  (Source: Honda)

  (Source: Honda)

  (Source: Honda)
The next generation fuel cell from Honda is trickling into the hands of a lucky few

Honda is among the automotive giants leading the charge to explore hydrogen technologies.  The culmination of its efforts to date is the Honda FCX Clarity.  The Clarity features a slick and curvy design, a 100 kW V Flow fuel cell stack that has shrunk 65 percent since Honda's initial design, 171-liter, 5,000-psi hydrogen fuel tank, a lithium ion battery pack, and a 95 kW (127 HP) electric motor.  At 68 MPG and a range of 270 miles, the Clarity is very competitive with other sedans.

This week, the first mass-produced units of the hot new zero-emissions car rolled off a Japanese assembly line in Takanezawa, Japan. However, they're not going to stay in the land of the rising sun for long; they're headed for the U.S.  The units are going primarily to Southern California, where a lucky few will receive them.  Among these are movie stars and starlets, who will help give the car, and Honda's hybrid efforts, a high profile.

Among these VIPs are
actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.  The group was flown to a special ceremony where they were presented with the cars.  Harris, who played villainess Marie Warner on the hit TV show "24" loves the car.  She states, "It's so smooth.  It's like a future machine, but it's not."

The new fuel cell vehicle is certainly promising.  Its two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times as efficient as a traditional gas engine, brags Honda.

Honda is deploying a "few dozen" units this year to kick off production.  By the end of 3 years, this number will have jumped to 200.  The cars will be available to lease for $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.  The actors and others receiving the early shipments will be able to drive home their vehicles starting in July.

In California alone, Honda received 50,000 applications for the cars.  Anyone living in the state could apply on the company's website.  The vast majority of these people were rejected as they did not live close enough to the three hydrogen stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

The enthusiasm from Honda was infectious.  John Mendel, a senior vice president at America Honda Motor Co. cheered at the ceremony, "This is indeed a historic day for both Honda and American Honda - a new chapter in our nearly fifty-year history in America.  It's an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

Major obstacles remain, however, for fuel cell cars.  First and foremost, there's a lack of hydrogen fuel stations and an infrastructure to pipe fuel around the country.  Second are the issues surrounding the stack: high price and less than desirable lifetime.  While advances have helped alleviate these problems slightly, they still exist.

To Honda, its fuel cell efforts are a new chance to win over its rivals.  While Honda broke ground by releasing the first gas-electric hybrid in the States in 1999, Toyota quickly outpaced it with Toyota's Prius.  Toyota recently announced the sale of its millionth hybrid Prius, while Honda ended up struggling, discontinuing two of its hybrids -- the Honda Insight, and the Accord hybrid.

Honda will be releasing the Clarity in Japan this fall, and it will also be going hybrid crazy, trying to battle back against Toyota.  It will release a new gas-electric hybrid-only model and will be releasing hybrid editions of the slick CR-Z and Fit subcompact.

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