Honda basks in its Clarity Fuel Cell
Six Honda customers got an early Christmas present last week when the automaker kicked off deliveries of its 2017 Clarity Fuel Cell sedan with a celebration at its Torrance, Calif., campus.
The third-generation hydrogen-powered Honda plants a bold flag in the limited field of fuel-cell vehicles and will likely earn the brand kudos and attention for being bigger and more capable than the competing Toyota Mirai.
But Honda’s bigger challenge lies outside its fuel-cell comfort zone. Next year will see the arrival of both a Clarity plug-in EV and a pure battery EV. And both will have to find a home in an EV marketplace where the just-launched Chevy Bolt is redefining expectations.
With its 238-mile range and a price tag that slips below $30,000 with the full federal tax credit, the Bolt has set a de facto benchmark by which all other automakers’ EV efforts will be judged, even if they aren’t direct competitors.
And as the first vehicle to break through the cost and mileage thresholds, it will hog the spoils: It’s already Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2017 and a finalist for North American Car of the Year.
Honda hasn’t revealed the range or price of the Clarity EV (the plug-in hybrid will have over 40 miles of electric-only range), but it’s unlikely to beat the Bolt on both. Honda has said only that its EV will be “affordable” and feature “premium content.”
In the meantime, the Honda brand and its dealers will have to make do with the buzz surrounding the Clarity Fuel Cell. The brand gets to make noise about its green-car credentials while the 12 dealers in California authorised to sell the hydrogen Clarity hope to sell more thanks to its halo effect.
Just as Chevy has benefited from potential Volt customers moving toward another bowtie model, Honda is seeing a bump from people who come to the store but decide against the fuel-cell.
Sales of the third-generation Clarity Fuel Cell will be modest at best; Honda hasn’t released the number of orders it already has, but it’s cautiously optimistic that in 2017, it will outsell the 918 Mirais that Toyota has moved through November (the Honda is available for lease only, not to buy).
Honda will claim at least few superlatives for the Clarity. For roughly the same money as Toyota’s Mirai, Clarity owners get a larger vehicle that seats five vs. the Toyota’s four, a 52-mile longer range (366 total miles), and styling that’s considered more attractive than the Mirai’s angular, catfish-inspired look.