Newcomers: Honda FCX Concept
Atom Smasher: A hydrogen fuel-cell car in two years-guaranteed
By Kim Reynolds
The hydrogen atom that hovered in the center of the power gauge was big and
orange and staring back ominously. Hal? Is that you? Even if it wasn't the
deranged computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey," it still looked displeased
with my profligate rate of H2 consumption.
At the moment, the Honda FCX Concept was swishing down the pit straight at
Laguna Seca Raceway like a horizontal elevator as its 127 electric
horsepower and estimated 4000 pounds of curb weight lawyerly interpreted the
laws of motion. "So?" asked the Honda engineer seated next to me. "What do
you think of it?"
"The steering's numbness would be the envy of an anesthesiologist," I
answered, "but it really doesn't matter right now, does it?"
Why? Because this is a prototype created to demonstrate Honda's latest
fuel-cell-vehicle technology, not vehicle dynamics. Earlier in the day, much
of Honda's prime engineering brain matter was assembled to tell us in no
uncertain terms to delete all mental files about the hydrogen car being a
20-year-away proposition. Said John Mendel, senior vice president, "The car
you will drive today is a working prototype of Honda's next-generation
hydrogen-powered sedan that will go into production-and into the hands of
customers-in about two years." Pressed for exactitude, Honda pledged to
begin placing FCXs in driveways by December 2008 (probably via leasing). In
addition to its exhaust being drinkable water, it's a time machine-how else
to travel 20 years in two?
The prime technical advance making this possible is a fuel-cell power
generator that now drains its water vertically (via gravity) and is so
diminutive it can reside beneath the driver's right armrest. Other tech
treats include a motor that's coaxial with the front axle (saving space) and
a lithium battery pack under the back seat to stow brake-regenerated power.
All told, the FCX Concept is nearly twice as efficient as a current compact
hybrid, will travel 270 miles (EPA combined cycle) on a tank (now 45-gallon
capacity, but still pressured to 5000 psi), and is ready to go again after a
five-minute refill. And where will the hydrogen come from? Trust us, we're
working on it, the Honda brains calmly reply. Of all the major
manufacturers, Honda is almost awkwardly committed to an H2 future. Crazy?
Honda also seemed crazy in the 1970s, when it introduced the CVCC engine.
Never hire a Ferret to do a Weasel's job