Tucked behind a rotating display of the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback prototype at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday was the automaker's Clarity Fuel Cell sedan. It was just sitting there without any media members flocking to it.
In a way, the moment symbolizes everything Honda doesn't want to see transpire once the Fuel Cell sedan hits the production line in Japan, before being made available in California later this year.
Honda has done its part, researching, developing and improving hydrogen-powered vehicles for nearly 15 years, dating back to the introduction of its first-generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX, in 2002.
But now, if the greener technology is ever going to be adopted on a wider scale, Honda will need states, regulators and companies to do their part, too.
The reason Honda will be strategically retailing the vehicle to customers in select California markets this year is because only certain locations in the Golden State are equipped to sustain the fuel cell stack once its driving range exceeds the Clarity's touted 300 miles-plus. As of mid-June 2015, the United States Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center counted only 23 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., with a majority of them being in California.
As Honda spokesperson Chris Martin explained the fuel cell stack technology to us at the NYIAS, he couldn't help but stress the importance of more public hydrogen fueling stations popping up across the country to establish the sustainability that would enable the Clarity to truly thrive in the future.
Until then, we would hate to see the Clarity Fuel Cell sedan sit on the production room floor with nobody paying it any mind. It's too good a technology to be wasted.
Since the FCX in 2002, Honda has really ramped up its hydrogen-powered technology, launching its second-generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, in July 2008. That vehicle had a V-flow fuel cell stack positioned in its center tunnel, providing 240 miles of driving range.
The automaker improved that with the new Clarity, whose fuel cell stack is 33 percent more compact with a 60 percent increase in power density in comparison with that of the FCX Clarity. That and Honda figured out a way to fit the entire fuel cell stack under the hood of the car, as we saw up close at NYIAS, freeing up room for a more spacious cabin and capacity for a fifth passenger to be seated comfortably. In addition, the new Clarity's range of 300-plus miles gives it at least 60 more miles than its predecessor.
It would be a shame if the Clarity becomes a hit in California, only for Honda to be forced to sit tight with the technology because there aren't enough sustainable hydrogen-fueling stations out there.