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First next generation Honda Clarity FCEV delivered in Japan

With the handing of the keys to the first production new generation Honda Clarity FCEV, to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, according to Honda Motors, “The realization of a hydrogen society” begins.

While there may be something lost in the translation, the message is clear. Honda Motor Company has taken serious steps toward the viable development and production of a mass-marketable FCEV(fuel cell electric vehicle.)

After following the Honda Clarity FCEV program for decades, I had the rare pleasure of sitting in the latest manifestation of Honda’s marvel at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show. You may catch my Clarity preview here.

The realization of a hydrogen society

In the words of Honda president and C.E.O. Mr. Takahiro Hachigo: * “When I got behind the wheel of the Clarity Fuel Cell for the first time today, I felt Honda’s strong passion toward the realization of a hydrogen society. For the popularization of FCVs and hydrogen stations, which will be the key to the realization of a hydrogen society, METI will continue to pursue the joint effort of the public-private partnership by facilitating closer collaboration with automakers such as Honda, along with hydrogen station operators and other stakeholders.”

Mr. Hachigo also commented, *“It is our pleasure to deliver the first unit of our Clarity Fuel Cell to the METI as part of the integrated public and private efforts to realize a hydrogen society. Honda will contribute to the realization of this hydrogen society by further development of our technologies and offering highly attractive FCVs to our customers at more affordable prices.”

When the most advanced fuel cell vehicle in the mainstream automotive industry comes to market in California, sometime in early 2017. It will once again be a lease only vehicle of limited numbers- with limited availability to Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento County lessees.

Honda has taken a protracted ‘let's wait and see approach to the launch of the latest generation Clarity, largely in part to a very limited fueling network, and a consumer not quite ready for what Mr. Hachigo refers to a “hydrogen society.”

Most readers poled are leery of hydrogen gas, and the fossil fuel refinement thereof. They look to I.C./electric hybrid and plug-in stand alone battery powered EV as a near and long-term viable replacement for the century-old technology that motivates personal conveyance today -- much cleaner burning than cars and trucks of the past, but far from zero-carbon-particulate emitting, as presented by FCEV and EV proponents.

Honda joins with General Motors in the development of the next generation hydrogen generator

General motors has experimented with fuel cell technology since the early 1960s. Toyota produces the Mirai FCV ( pulled out of production in early 2016) Kia, Mercedes Benz and other automakers also have their proverbial hats in the “ hydrogen society” ring. I first viewed a Mercedes Benz S-Series fuel cell vehicle in the early 1990s, as I said, the hydrogen society has been a long time in the making
Honda Clarity on the roads of L.A. for 7 years

The first generation Honda FCX Clarity has been on the roads of California since 2009, giving Honda a decisive lead in what many consider to be a viable zero-emissions, autonomous driving future -- it went out of production in 2014 in anticipation of a next generation Clarity release in 2015 as a 2016 model.

That didn’t happen. Honda pointed to the glaring lack of fueling infrastructure on the west coast of the United States. Detractors pointed to Clarity and screamed “compliance vehicle.” All were correct.

Plug in electric vehicles have the upper hand in the zero-emissions endgame

With an increase in battery charge range comes a heightened interest in the plug-in electric vehicle. Honda’s foray into that arena was short lived with the Fit E.V., taken out of production without explanation. Read my Davis “smart house” Fit EV article here. Arguably electrified vehicles are the future in personal transportation.

Wednesday found Tesla Motors taking orders for the $35,000 Tesla 3, 100,000 plus order reservations were committed on the first day of the public offering. Roughly the purchase MSRP of a fully loaded 2016 Accord Touring, and offering a ‘real-world’ predicted between charge drive range of 250 miles, the electric vehicle just became mainstream.

With the hydrogen fueling infrastructure stretched, and Honda Clarity, Toyota Miria approaching $60,000, or the equivalent of if leased, fuel cell vehicles will remain a rare oddity, destined for the car collections of the wealthy, and the back lots of public utilities wishing to detract from the near future of a “hydrogen society.”

We’ll see where it goes. Currently the hydrogen fueling infrastructure in California is being expanded to 100 stations. With an estimated between refill range of 300 miles, and a refueling time of 3 to 5 minutes, If strategically placed along the Pacific Coast Highway, Ventura and the Interstate 5 corridor, FCEV could work for state-wide commuters. Trucks.

*Photo attribution Honda Motor Company Europe 2016.

Parks McCants is an automotive news reporter focusing on Honda news coverage. Follow Parks on Twitter at @parksmccants.