Honda FCX Clarity review Telegraph

27 Фев 2014 | Author: | Комментарии к записи Honda FCX Clarity review Telegraph отключены
Honda FCX Clarity

The new Honda FCX Clarity is the world’s first commercially available fuel-cell vehicle that has reached Europe although you can’t buy one yet.

It’s all the hype over battery electric that drives me mad, says Thomas Brachmann, senior engineer with Honda. If nature is half as clever as it’s supposed to be, how is it that the sun uses hydrogen as an energy carrier and not a battery?

It’s an interesting point, that natural selection favours the universe’s most common element, hydrogen, as an energy storage medium rather than a chemical electrical battery. Perhaps Honda should use a Darwin Approved strap line on its fuel cell-powered FCX Clarity, which has just arrived in Europe for the first time.

We nearly ran over a blissfully unaware cyclist as we pulled out of the Tor Süd chemical plant onto the B-roads of Germany. The FCX is almost silent at low speeds and as we have pointed out in the past, that’s going to be an issue in an all-electric world whether power comes from fuel cells or batteries.

Not that this is going to much of a problem with the Honda FCX Clarity, which has been four years in development since we first clapped eyes on the concept at the Tokyo motor show in 2005.

Since setting up mass production in June 2008 at Honda’s automobile new model centre in Toshigi, Japan (it used to produce the NSX sports car) the workers there have produced just 18 complete cars — enough to warrant the sack in any other car plant, but then the economic conditions have been rather against statement environmental cars like this Honda and the FCX is anything but simple to make.

The plan is to eventually produce about 200 of these four-door, four-seat hatchbacks in three years and currently there are eight running round Los Angeles and another eight in Japan.

While the FCX is the first commercially available fuel-cell vehicle, you lease rather than buy it. Mr and Mrs Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Yerxa, director of Little Miss Sunshine, already lease examples. They’ll be paying Honda $600 a month for the privilege, with fuel on top.

This currently costs between $5 and $10 per kilogramme and the Honda’s single pressure tank carries 4kg or 171 litres at 5,000psi, which gives it a total range of between 250 and 270 miles. In the slug-like US economy test it has the energy equivalent fuel consumption of about 106mpg.

To drive the FCX feels fast and heavy. At almost 1.7 tons it’s certainly the latter. With a top speed of 100mph and a 0-60mph time of about 10sec, it’s debatable how fast although, like all electric vehicles, it pulls like a train to 30mph so your perception is of something quicker than it really is.

Apart from being a fabulous looking car, the FCX is pretty much the state-of-the-art fuel-cell development. The cabin designers asked if the fuel cell could be mounted vertically in the centre of the car and the engineers discovered serendipitous benefits. The vertical mounting means the cells drain of potentially damaging water and also allows a more efficient horizontal cooling layout.

The internal wavy layout increases the surface area of the platinum membrane for the hydrogen to work on and further developments include the possibility of pressurising the stack so that operating temperatures can be raised above boiling point. This would reduce the need for drag-inducing cooling radiators and a heavy humidifier.

Fuel cell? It’s effectively a gas battery based on a catalytic reaction between platinum and hydrogen that produces electricity. The hydrogen is pumped to an anode on one side of a Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM), while air is pumped to the opposite cathode side.

The membrane only allows the passage of the positively charged hydrogen ions to pass through, the negatively charged electrons pass through an external circuit to the cathode where they combine with the ions and the oxygen in the air to form water and heat.

The basics of this gas battery were described in a letter written in 1843 by Sir William Grove. His idea was used to power early American telegraph machines and was disinterred by two pioneering engineers at General Electric for Nasa’s Gemini moon shots in the Sixties and the car industry some 20 years later.

In the last 10 years developments have been fast and furious: stamped metal separators, aromatic membranes and higher temperatures and pressures. Sir William wouldn’t recognise the modern solid-state fuel cell, particularly Honda’s latest.

Sit in the commodious cabin and the FCX presents you with dashboard filled with strange looking instruments and some spectacularly artificial maize-derived upholstery. The digital speedometer is surrounded by a power output/input meter, with separate quadrant displays for battery and hydrogen contents. In the centre a strange disembodied ball glows green at low fuel consumption, grows larger and orange as you press the accelerator.

A stubby steering column-mounted gearlever offers Drive, Neutral, Park and Reverse. Select drive and pull away.

If the FCX feels weird at first, it is also entirely instinctive. It wafts like the best Rolls-Royce and sounds like an owl is trapped under the bonnet. Power-assisted steering feels artificial but is not unpleasant. The whirring compressor increases volume with the road speed and the FCX gains speed rapidly.

Lifting off starts a process in which the motor acts in reverse to recharge the lithium-ion battery.

At 1.7 tons, the car is hardly a sports model, and the tall, low-rolling resistance tyres don’t offer the last word in grip. Provoke it by lifting off the throttle and the weight of the battery and hydrogen tank in the rear lift the bodywork and the car starts to slide wide in oversteer. The traction control quickly reins this in, but you are left in no doubt that the FCX prefers being driven briskly but not fast.

The FCX doesn’t answer any of the questions about where the hydrogen comes from (mainly natural gas) or how it could be delivered to customers. And impressive as the FCX undoubtedly is, even at this first level of pressurisation its hydrogen storage is heavy and very expensive.

The two FCX models that have arrived in Europe are not for sale and it’s unlikely that the car will ever go on sale here or indeed anywhere.

Not that Honda is backing away from any of these challenges. For the second time in its history, it has diverted its racing engineers into alternative fuels research. The 400 engineers from Honda’s abandoned Formula One programme are now working in fuel-cell research, electric vehicles and advanced aerodynamics.

Honda FCX Clarity

Sachito Fujimoto, Honda’s project leader on the FCX, can barely hide his delight at this influx of money and resources into a project he has toiled over for the last decade. Mind you, he reflects with a smile, I haven’t noticed my bonus going up at the same time.

Price/availability: about $600 a month excluding hydrogen fuel/Only available in California and Japan.

Tested: Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell car

Power/torque: 134bhp fuel cell powering an 127bhp/189lb ft AC electric motor driving the front wheels with lithium-ion battery pack and 171 litres of gaseous hydrogen stored at 5,000psi.

Top speed: 100mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in about 10sec.

Fuel economy energy equivalent: 106mpg

CO2 emissions: none at exhaust pipe

VED band: A (zero)

Alternatives: General Motors Equinox-based HydroGen4; Daimler-Benz B-class fuel cell; Toyota FCHV-5.

Verdict: A beautiful and highly advanced vision of the future with technology that has rival car makers quaking in their beds. Honda’s concentration on system efficiency, aerodynamics and light weight rather than packing ever more hydrogen into the car is typical of the marque and seems a sound RD direction.

On the stereo: There’s Only So Much Oil In The Ground . by Tower Of Power.

Telegraph rating: Five out of five

Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity
Honda FCX Clarity

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