Honda has unveiled the future of personal transportation: the FCX Clarity, a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car that emits only water from its tailpipe and can get the equivalent of 119 kilometers per gallon. The first Claritys were delivered to southern California on June 16, and Hollywood crowds are already lining up to lease it for $600 a month. "This is a must-have technology for the future of the earth," said Honda president Takeo Fukui at the rollout. "Honda will work hard to mainstream fuel-cell cars."
Sounds great, but sadly the mainstreaming of fuel-cell cars will come much farther out. Honda, for all its good intentions and buzz-worthy PR, is heavily subsidizing the Clarity, which actually costs several hundred thousand dollars to produce per model. Fukui says it will take 10 years to get the price of the car below $100,000, and it plans to lease only 200 models over the next three years. But the biggest roadblock is beyond Honda's control: a dearth of hydrogen-filling stations. "You probably won't be able to just go to your dealer in 2013 and buy a hydrogen fuel-cell car," says John Wolkonowicz of Global Insight. "But if you push the clock ahead to 2030, it's very possible that they could be the dominant technology." Hydrogen may be our inevitable future, but it's got a long road to go.