Kevin Cody

Honda’s hydrogen Clarity clears the air

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Palos Verdes native Brett Wright is one of two specially trained Clarity salesmen at Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance. Photo by LeftPeak Productions

by Brian Gillogly

The use of hydrogen for propulsion has been around since the early 19th century. It came into its own with the Space Shuttle, which used hydrogen fuel during takeoff and descent. When hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, comes into contact with oxygen within a fuel cell chamber, the interaction produces energy. The only emission from the process is water, which the Space Shuttle astronauts utilized for drinking and washing.

The four-door Honda Clarity uses hydrogen to drive its 174 horsepower electric engine. The Clarity was named the 2018 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal.

Honday’s Hydrogen-fueled Clarity has the upscale design and feel of Honda’s top of the line models. Photo by Victorfoto.com

Palos Verdes native Brett Wright is one of two specially trained Clarity salesmen at the Torrance Scott Robinson Honda. He acknowledged that when people think of hydrogen fuel, many still think of the 1937 explosion in New Jersey of the German airship Hindenburg. But the old associations are no longer valid, he said.

“The Clarity has gone through all the rigorous testing by Honda and governmental agencies.  They absolutely wouldn’t allow it to be sold if it wasn’t a safe car,” he said.

The Clarity drives much like an electric car, because it is an electric car, powered by hydrogen gas. “I was absolutely floored by how quickly it accelerates, and how quiet and smooth it is.  It’s like you’re driving a much more expensive car,” Wright said.

Alfred Maldonado is a former test driver at Honda’s US headquarters in Torrance. He now focuses on surf photography but remains a Honda aficionado and a techie.  After he and I took a quick spin around the Palos Verdes Peninsula in a new red Clarity, he said he was as impressed as much by the Clarity’s style and airflow as by its clean technology.

Honda’s intention has been to “normalize” the car for the market. In this regard, Maldonado feels the approach works. “They style the car for the customer.  I like the color combinations with the chrome and the black roof. When red catches the light it seems to turn different shades. It’s just a very stately looking car for people commuting downtown or going to the theater.”

“Honda has always had a racing background, and those racing innovations eventually filter down to their production cars,” he said

“You can see it in the lines of all their cars. For instance, there’s a partial covering of the rear wheels to reduce drag. Other automakers might put in race-like wings or fairings that actually cause drag, but there’s very little of that here.  It’s just a very clean design.”

The Clarity comes with all the safety features associated with their top-of-the-line cars, including a “lane departure warning.”  But it may not be a feature everyone likes. “When I got my new Civic Hatchback Sport, the lane departure warning came on and I thought I had a flat tire. Now I just have it turned off,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado also isn’t a fan of the Clarity’s, colorful central console, which  monitors fuel consumption, the audio system and other features. “It’s beautiful, yeah, but it can be distracting.  You have to get used to it.”

For a ride up to Santa Barbara, we fueled up at a gas station with a hydrogen pump on Inglewood Boulevard, where it meets the 405 Freeway. Wright noted that there are 31 hydrogen fuel stations in California and more being built. The Clarity has a range of 366 miles.

Pumping hydrogen fuel is a little different from pumping gasoline, perhaps because a tight seal has to be made. But we figured it out and were quickly back on the road.

The leather seats, quiet cabin and independent climate controls almost made the 30 mph slog in the diamond lane tolerable. Admirers gave us the thumbs up, including a 20-something man in a late-model van.

Once we broke away from the LA traffic, the Clarity accelerated smoothly. It felt like I was driving an Acura or Lexus, except for the quiet.  

On the way back home, we took Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu. The car cornered assuredly on the curves above County Line, and floated through the open stretches below.

Back in the South Bay, we stopped again at the Inglewood Boulevard and 405  fueling station. Following us to the pump was a lady in a Toyota Mirai which is also a  hydrogen fuel cell car. She jumped out and said. “Beautiful car.”

The $5,000 California Clean Vehicle rebate and up to $15,00o in free fuel make the 3-year Clarity lease a bargain.  However, each dealer only gets a few cars a month. Scott Robinson’s Wright has a waiting list of over 500 prospective customers. ER

 

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