Sunday, June 05, 2005

Street-legal hydrogen-fueled car

Honda FCX: What a Gas! A Week in Suburbia With a Hydrogen Honda
Published: June 5, 2005

FOR a decade or longer, the fuel-cell car has resembled the mirage that recedes as you draw closer to it. Hydrogen-powered vehicles always seemed at least 20 years away, the subject of news conferences in Washington and static displays at auto shows. Even when test-drive opportunities came up, they were strictly controlled rides around a track, with nervous company representatives making excuses from the passenger seat.

All that changed last month when Honda handed me the keys to a 2005 edition of its FCX (for Fuel Cell Experimental), the first zero-emission, hydrogen-driven vehicle to be certified by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California for everyday commercial use. This is a street-ready hydrogen car with license plates and no rough edges, a test bed for green technology worth well over $1 million.

Only 20 similar cars exist in the United States and Japan, and I was one of the first journalists to drive it for an extended, unsupervised period - a week in the mixed company of Northeastern traffic.

Given my experience with fuel-cell prototypes that were noisy, balky and incapable of going very far between refuelings, the FCX was something of a surprise. Featuring the latest generation of Honda's own fuel cells (hundreds of them are arrayed in two multiple sets, called stacks) and a body and electric motor derived from the company's unsuccessful EV Plus battery vehicle, the FCX felt like a real car, not a high-strung test mule.

A small two-door hatchback with seating for four, it came with traction control, a CD player and even an automatic climate-control system. There may be fewer than two dozen of these cars in the world, but Honda went to the trouble of giving this one classy floor mats embroidered with the FCX logo.

With new noise-suppression technology, the FCX is one of the quietest cars on the road...

Just one question: how many cup holders does this thing have?


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