Honda FCEV Concept hints at future of fuel-cell vehicles

Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen of America, said today at the L.A. auto show when discussing the debate between fuel-cell technology and electric/hybrid vehicles that, "Most people know where to find an electrical outlet; not many know where to find hydrogen." He has a point. But that hasn't stopped Honda from investing millions over the past two decades in an effort to make fuel-cell vehicles a viable option.

That effort continued today, as Honda unveiled the FCEV Concept, showcasing a futuristic look that "potentially" reveals styling cues of its next generation fuel-cell electric vehicle, set to debut in 2015.

According to Honda, the upcoming production FCEV will feature the "world’s first application of a fuel-cell powertrain packaged completely in the engine room of the vehicle," thus increasing the interior space allowing five people to fit comfortably. The fuel stacks now yield more than 100kWs of power output, while power density is up 60-percent to 3kW/L. Range, therefore, should be around 300 miles, besting Honda's current FCX Clarity's 240 miles. Expect a refueling time of around three minutes at a pressure of 70 MPa.

From the front, the FCEV appears bold and stylish -- mixed with a hint of Acura NSX. Things, however, go astray towards the back. I'm not a fan of the covered rear wheels, despite its aerodynamic benefits. That, combined with a tail that's stretched like a ball of Play-Doh, lacks cohesiveness. But it doesn't matter. Honda execs emphasized the "hints at" portion of the aesthetics, basically meaning that its next fuel-cell car won't look nearly this daring.

The major issue Honda faces right now -- as Browning states -- is the ability to find hydrogen refueling stations for fuel-cell vehicles, making range anxiety perhaps more prevalent than in an electric car. This year, Honda has teamed up with General Motors to co-develop the next-generation of fuel-cell systems and hydrogen storage technologies, with an aim to see tangible results by 2020, while it works with H2USA to add infrastructure in a cost-effective manner to eventually silence critics. But as VW's man says, the technology isn't there right now: "We (at VW) will focus on what we can today," he states, "not something that won't be available until tomorrow." For Honda, it hopes that tomorrow eventually becomes today. And if it does, two decades of work will ensure it's well ahead of the game.

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