TOCHIGI, Japan – The new platform for the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan making its debut Wednesday at the Tokyo Motor Show also will underpin a new plug-in hybrid that comes to market due shortly after the fuel-cell’s spring 2016 launch. The new platform, which is roughly the size of the Honda Accord, though sharing no significant components with it, looks to take on the Toyota Prius strategy of marketing a family of green-car models, with distinct, if overwrought styling. Honda also will introduce a new conventional Accord hybrid just ahead of the fuel cell and plug-in models early next year.
Honda says it expects significant sales volume increases for all these green car models. Its third-generation fuel cell sedan, called the Clarity, gets a 30 percent increase in power, to 130 kilowatts, with an estimated 300-plus-mile range from a new fuel cell stack and motor that takes up about the same space as a V-6 engine, all under the car’s hood. The flat lithium-ion battery pack fits between the unibody frame rails under the front seats, while the main hydrogen tank fits behind the rear bulkhead, with a smaller supplementary tank under the bottom cushion of the rear bench seat. Honda has not revealed the tank capacity, though the main tank leaves decent, usable trunk space, and the interior is as roomy for five adults as a conventional midsize sedan.
The compactness of the electric-drive motor and fuel cell stack is made possible by a 50 percent increase in power density and a reduction in the number of fuel cells by nearly one-third. There is cooling for every two cells, and each cell’s thickness has been reduced by 20 percent. The power control unit (PCU) has been moved from on top of the motor to in front of it, and the height of both the PCU and motor are reduced by 34 percent, compared with the second-generation Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell car.
Suspension is MacPherson strut front, with a multi-link rear. Honda says a new, hollow aluminum die-cast subframe is 6 percent lighter than the competition (the Toyota Mirai). Honda offered very short (1-kilometer) drives of both the new Clarity Fuel Cell sedan and a mule of the plug-in hybrid using the current Accord sedan’s body. The fuel cell car is quick, quiet and smooth, though it’s not electric car-quick when launching from a standing start. The plug-in hybrid feels a bit quicker, with seamless transitions between electric and hybrid electric/internal combustion power.
Honda is also offering a modular Smart Hydrogen Station to encourage growth in fuel cell refueling infrastructure, and introduced the Power Exporter 9000, a high-output external power supply machine that can use electricity provided by the fuel cell car to power a home or public facility in case of an emergency outage. Honda and General Motors have entered into a joint-venture project to expand the hydrogen refueling station infrastructure beginning in 2020.
That’s also the year Honda plans to introduce new semi-automated driving features in some models, probably beginning with Acuras in the North American market. Honda demonstrated a Traffic Jam Assist feature using radar and camera, and Target Line Tracing, the latter of which determines the efficient “target line” between two points while staying within a lane. The Target Line Tracing System adjusts the car’s line when it deviates from the target, which means the semi-automated system can adjust for wet or snowy pavement that may cause the tires to slip.