Friday, 20 June 2008

Honda May Mass-Produce FCX Clarity Fuel-Cell Car in 10 Years

Honda May Mass-Produce FCX Clarity Fuel-Cell Car in 10 Years

By Tetsuya Komatsu and Makiko Kitamura

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Honda Motor Co., Japan's second- largest automaker, may start mass production of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell car within 10 years to meet growing demand for fuel- efficient models.

``If we can bring costs down by a certain amount, I think we can start mass-production,'' President Takeo Fukui said in an interview at its new-model center today in Tochigi prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. Honda began production of the FCX Clarity at the center today.

Honda plans to lease 200 FCX Clarity vehicles in the U.S. and Japan over the next three years and has five customers for the car in the U.S., the company said in a statement. The carmaker is adding low-pollution models including fuel-cell and gasoline-electric hybrids as record-high oil prices and tougher carbon-emission rules boost demand for cars that use less fuel.

``There's still a lot of research that's left to be done'' on fuel-cell cars, said Yuuki Sakurai, who helps manage the equivalent of 5.7 trillion yen ($53 billion) including Japanese auto stocks. ``It's difficult to fathom what the industry will look like ten years down the road.''

The FCX Clarity will initially be offered only in California, beginning in July, to take advantage of a network of hydrogen fueling stations being added across the state. The car, which has a top speed of 105 miles per hour, will be leased for $600 a month, the automaker said.

The model's first U.S. customer is Ron Yerxa, who produced the Oscar-winning film Little Miss Sunshine. Actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest are also customers.

Fuel cells create electricity in a chemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen. Ideally, water vapor is the only emission.

Emerging Market Hybrids

Honda may produce hybrid cars in an emerging market by the middle of the next decade, Fukui also said in the interview. Specifically, producing a hybrid Civic model in Thailand may be an option because emerging markets have high import duties on cars, he said. It currently builds gasoline-engine Civics in Thailand.

``We would add a hybrid system to a location where we already build a base model,'' Fukui said.

Honda plans to add three new models to help raise sales of hybrid vehicles by ninefold to 500,000 units early in the next decade from 55,400 last year, the company said on May 21. Honda trails only Toyota Motor Corp. in building hybrids.

The Civic is the only model with a hybrid option now. It's also developing the CR-Z hybrid sports car and will add a hybrid option to the Fit compact car.

Hybrid vehicles combine a conventional gasoline engine with an electric motor. The electric motor powers the vehicle at low speeds, and the gasoline engine takes over as the car accelerates. The motor's battery pack is charged by the gasoline engine and by power regenerated by the brakes.

Honda was the first company to lease fuel-cell vehicles to consumers in 2005 with the FCX minivan, predecessor to the Clarity.

In Japan, Honda leases the FCX minivan to 11 central and local government officials with payments of 800,000 yen ($7,384) a month. The company leases 24 units to customers in the U.S. for $500 a month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tetsuya Komatsu in Tokyo at

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