It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle seemed like a dead-end endeavor. The prospect of a world full of cars that consume hydrogen and emit only water has always ranked right up there with flying cars on the list of things that have always been right around the corner. The technology remained too expensive for public consumption, and when hybrids and EVs began selling huge numbers, it seemed everyone just sort of forgot about it. Except for Honda.

The Japanese company has arguably more experience than any car company in the world when it comes to hydrogen fuel-cell technology. Way back in 1999, the company introduced it first prototype fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX, and later introduced a limited-run compact hatchback FCX for limited fleet use in the United States and Japan.

In 2008 Honda launched its first pilot program for individual customers with the FCX Clarity in 2008. It was built in limited numbers and offered in parts of Southern California and Japan and Europe, where hydrogen fill-up stations were starting to pop up. Because the FCX Clarity was so expensive to manufacture (rumors suggest as much as $1 million per unit), they were only offered for lease.

The FCX Clarity program ended in early 2014, but now Honda is doubling down with a new hydrogen fuel-cell car, the FCV Concept. As the name implies, it’s just a concept for now, but Honda has committed to launching a road-ready version in 2016 as part of a wider initiative in Southern California and eventually other parts of the world. Honda has also committed to helping expand the state of California’s public hydrogen refueling station network. Heck, I even saw a hydrogen pump at a Shell station in Orange County just last week.

Updated 01/23/2015: We’ve added a series of new images from the car’s official debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Check the new images in the "Pictures" tab.

Click past the jump to read more about the Honda FCV Concept.

Exterior

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Exterior
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The FCX Clarity looked like an alternate design proposal for the Accord. It wasn’t ugly, but its looks didn’t suggest that it had a drivetrain from the future. This new FCV, on the other hand, looks like it just rolled off the set of a Neill Blomkamp movie. It has a thoroughly futuristic appearance that compliments the innovative drivetrain underneath.

For the profile, Honda has come to the same aerodynamic conclusions with the FCV as most other cars with efficiency-minded designs. There’s a smooth, uninterrupted arch running from the bottom of the windshield all the way to the tail to reduce the low-pressure zone aft of the rear bumper. The greenhouse features a glass panorama roof and surprisingly thin A-pillars.

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Exterior
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The rest of the body features well-defined creases, the most notable of which runs from the front wheel well and curves downward across the rear door into an air-intake. The front features a very cool looking brushed-aluminum mask framed on either side by LED headlights. The taillights fade into a large, black-tinted panel that sits above a rear diffuser that looks straight off a Le Mans prototype.

Interior

2014 Honda FCV Concept Interior
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The FCV is every bit as futuristic inside as it is on the outside. A dark wood-grain strip adds a bit of class and wraps from door to door across the dashboard. The same wood grain shows up on the center console and doors, the latter is inlaid with metallic horizontal pinstripes. The bottom half of the dash has a polished-aluminum finish, and all five seats and center tunnel are wrapped in smooth white leather.

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Interior
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Smack in the middle of the dash is a large iPad-like touchscreen panel, where drivers can monitor drivetrain functions and presumably access sat-nav and infotainment user interfaces. The center console is spare, and features nifty transmission and parking brake lights that show through the wood grain. The steering wheel is shaped like a hexagon and seems to be missing its top, so expect a rounder, more functional wheel for the production version.

Drivetrain

2014 Honda FCV Concept Drivetrain
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Rather than drawing power from a wall outlet, fuel-cell cars are essentially electric cars that produce electricity using a chemical reaction of oxygen and hydrogen that occurs within a fuel-cell stack. This also eliminates the need for heavy battery packs. Thanks to Honda’s continued development, the FCV’s next-generation fuel-cell stack is both smaller and more efficient.

The smaller stack size — 33 percent smaller than that of the FCX — also presents the potential for the hydrogen-powered drivetrain to be applied to other vehicles in Honda’s range.

Improved efficiency means the stack now produces up to 100 kW, or about 134 horsepower in internal combustion speak. Power density has increased by 60 percent to 3.1 kW/L, and Honda claims a very impressive range of 435 miles between fill-ups — a 60-mile improvement over the Clarity. The trick will be finding a place 435 miles away with a hydrogen refueling station, but if you do, you’ll be able to refill in just three to five minutes.

Hydrogen makes up about 75 percent of the known mass in our universe. You’d think that would make it pretty cheap, but prices for hydrogen fill-ups haven’t really settled like gasoline has. With current technology, it’s estimated to cost about $50 per 300 miles, which is a bit better than your average, modern-day internal-combustion car.

Along with the FCV, Honda introduced the Honda Power Exporter Concept, which is basically a small, portable box on wheels that turns the FCV into a mobile power generator. It provides a 9 kW AC power outlet in the event of a power outage, emergency or an overnight keg party in the desert.

Drivetrain Specifications

Type fuel-cell stack
Output 100 kW (134 HP)
Output density 3.1 kW / L
Hydrogen tank 70 MPa
Driving range 700 km (435 miles)

Prices

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Exterior
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There’s been no official word from Honda, but we’re expecting the FCV to use a leasing program similar to that of the FCX. Predicting cost is a crapshoot, but we can tell you that the FCV Clarity was leased to customers for about $600 a month over a three-year lease.

Honda recently contributed $13.8 million to FirstElement Fuel — a California company that operates the state’s hydrogen network in Southern California and the Bay Area. The funds will go towards adding 12 new hydrogen stations in Southern California — a good indication Honda wants to exceed the production run of FCX Clarity. Still, it’s going to be hard to get your hands on a FCV when you consider that there were over 80,000 lease applicants for the only 200 FCXs ever made.

Competition

Toyota Mirai

2016 Toyota Mirai High Resolution Exterior
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The 2016 Toyota Mirai might be the weirdest-looking new car on the road, but it’s got a lot going for it. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for with peripheral benefits. That means free hydrogen fill ups for three years, and availability in more parts of the country, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island as well as Southern California.

It’s available to lease at $499 per month for 36 months or for a purchase price of $57,500. Though, Toyota says there up to $13,000 in state and federal incentives available. Sounds great, as long as you can get passed those looks.

Hyundai Tucson Fuel-Cell

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell High Resolution Exterior
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Unlike the Toyota Mirai and Honda FCV, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel-cell is based on an existing model. In fact, it’s only distinguished from the internal combustion Tucson by its fuel-cell badging.

Like the FCV, it’s only available for lease in Southern California, but like the Toyota, hydrogen fill-ups are on the house. It’s Hyundai’s first go at building and selling a fuel-cell vehicle, but things seem to be running along smoothly so far.

Conclusion

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Exterior
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Honda is no longer the only player when it comes to consumer-facing hydrogen fuel-cell technology, but its great to see the company recommit. Hydrogen cars still make up an extremely small portion of total car sales, but with the new competition, this should be an interesting segment to watch for the next decade or so.

The FCV is still a concept at this point, but given Honda’s experience with fuel-cell technology, it should be the best of the coming-soon hydrogen-powered cars. The on-paper figures look very promising, and it also happens to look extremely cool. Everything about should be great, as long as you live in Southern California.

  • Leave it
    • Only available in Southern California
    • You might have trouble finding places to fill up
    • No free hydrogen offered… yet

Press Release

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. today unveiled, a concept car for an all-new fuel-cell vehicle, the Honda FCV Concept (FCV) and the Honda Power Exporter Concept, a concept model for an external power feeding device that enables AC power output from the FCV with maximum output of 9 kW*1.

2014 Honda FCV Concept High Resolution Exterior
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The all-new FCV production model that will be based on this concept is scheduled to go on sale in Japan by the end of March 2016 and subsequently in the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to the FCV and external power feeding device, Honda will further promote the application of the Smart Hydrogen Station (SHS) - a packaged hydrogen station unit that adopts Honda’s original high-differential-pressure electrolyser.

In this way, Honda will work toward the forthcoming hydrogen society under three key concepts – ‘generate’, ‘use’ and ‘get connected’ – and continues to pursue a CO2 -free society.

Honda views hydrogen as a high-potential, next-generation energy carrier due to the fact that hydrogen can be generated from various energy sources and is easily transportable and storable.

Based on this view, Honda has been positioning the FCV - which uses electricity generated through the chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen as a power source for the motor – as the ultimate environmentally responsible vehicle and taking a proactive approach to the research and development of FCVs since the late 1980s.

In 2002, the Honda FCX became the first*2 fuel cell vehicle in the world to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). With these certifications, Honda began lease sales of the Honda FCX in Japan and the U.S. In 2003, Honda developed the Honda FC STACK, the world’s first*2 fuel-cell stack able to start at below-freezing temperatures. Then in 2005, Honda became the world’s first*2 to begin lease sales of FCVs to individual customers in the U.S.

2014 Honda FCV Concept Interior
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In 2008, Honda began lease sales of the FCX Clarity, an unprecedented fuel-cell vehicle that offers not only the ultimate in clean performance, but also new values and the appeal of a car, including an innovative sedan-type package and driving feel that is far beyond conventional vehicles.

As demonstrated by this track record to date, Honda has been a leading company in the field of FCV development, amassing real-world data through lease sales in Japan and the U.S., including actual feedback from individual users and also driving data from the vehicles.

The Honda FCV Concept is a concept car for Honda’s next-generation FCV, a successor model to the FCX Clarity, with which Honda strives to achieve a further improvement in performance and a reduction in cost.

The newly-developed fuel-cell stack installed to this concept car is 33% smaller than the previous fuel-cell stack and yet achieves output of more than 100 kW and output density as high as 3.1 kW/L, improving the overall performance by approximately 60% compared to the previous version of the fuel-cell stack.

Honda’s next-generation FCV will be the world’s first*2 FCV sedan with the entire powertrain, including the downsized fuel-cell stack, consolidated under the hood of a sedan-type vehicle. This powertrain layout enables a full cabin package that seats five adults comfortably and also will make it possible to evolve this vehicle into multiple models in the future when the more widespread use of FCVs requires enhanced choices for customers.

The Honda FCV Concept is also equipped with a 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen storage tank that provides a cruising range of more than 700 km*3. The tank can be refilled in approximately three minutes*4, making refuelling as quick and easy as today’s gasoline vehicles.

Furthermore, the Honda FCV Concept features an external power feeding function*5, which underwent a large number of verification tests with the FCX Clarity. When combined with an external power feeding device, this FCV can function as a small-sized mobile power plant that generates and provides electricity to the community in times of disaster or other events.

2014 Honda FCV Concept Drivetrain
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Striving to make a contribution to the forthcoming ‘hydrogen energy society’, Honda will continue taking on new challenges in the area of hydrogen technologies including the Smart Hydrogen Station, FCVs and external power feeding devices.

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