Honda FCX Concept: The Wave of the Future

Written by Nizam B. Ali

In the automotive world, concept cars are created by manufacturers to drum up interest and excitement in their brands. Once born, these bold and intriguing machines are unveiled at auto shows from Detroit to Geneva drawing scores of people and press not only to the vehicle itself, but to the manufacturer’s current product line. Concept vehicles also serve as a platform to integrate and test new technologies. Whether new safety systems or new eco-friendly power plants, the public gets their first taste of years of research and development through concepts. We received our first taste of Honda’s next generation fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Concept, recently in Washington, D.C. and got a great look at this top priority technology from Honda.

The FCX Concept is an ultra-cool futuristic vehicle that employs a high efficiency fuel cell stack, lithium-ion battery and high-pressure hydrogen tank to provide emission-free power. It’s much more technical than that, but by continuously refining and improving on these key components, Honda is increasing range, speed and ease of use with each generation of fuel cell vehicle to match those of traditional emissions producing vehicles. The FCX is a breakthrough because it has already achieved a range of 270 miles between hydrogen fill ups as well as a maximum speed of 100 mph. This is well within the range of what everyday consumers demand whether environmentally conscious or not.

Eco-cars of the past have had the sigma of being small, nerdy-looking and about as fun to drive as a soapbox car uphill. The cars were the best they could have been with the technology of the time. But with the technological gains of the past several years, Honda has reduced the size and efficiency of its fuel cells, thereby gaining unprecedented flexibility within the FCX. The FCX Concept is a stylish next generation sedan that seats four people comfortably. Without adding length and weight to the car, designers have employed a cab-forward design and long wheelbase to create a low-riding, low-floor vehicle with a spacious cabin. Viewed head on, the front looks aggressive and futuristic. The headlamps mirror the grille horizontally in the center then angle up together creating a distinctive look. Though the mid-section is more familiar, the glass around the side mirrors where the A pillars meet the body add good forward visibility and give the driver a further feeling of spaciousness. Moving to the rear of the car is a departure from the norm as well. The roofline lowers only slightly trailing off to a near hatchback height, but it remains narrow rather that widening to meet the body panels. It’s a nice design feature that ends with a car-wide tail lamp and cleanly tapered rear. There are vents where you would expect dual tailpipes to be but because of the lack of emissions, no tail pipes are visible.

Driving the FCX is another break from expectations. Being so low to the ground, the car handles very well. Road feel is good and the ride is pleasantly smooth. The only thing to get used to is that the lack of traditional engine noise is replaced by a pitchy wine as the drive train increases revolutions. It was very noticeable during the test drive mainly because the sound is different than what we are used to but it is a small price to pay for the benefit to our dear Mother Earth.

Acceleration was steady and shiftless as we took the vehicle in upwards of 70 mph. Though there are no recorded 0-60 times, acceleration is on par with today’s internal combustion vehicles and will not sway confidence in a high-speed merge. Driving the vehicle felt comfortable and effortless despite the vast technology within. Steering was easy, and a screen display coving all aspects of this fuel cell vehicle’s vitals is prominent and easy to decipher.

Though living a totally eco-friendly life does involve its sacrifices, the FCX Concept hopes to level the playing field by providing creature comforts that consumers will not only feel good about but will actually prefer. A prime example of this in the FCX is Honda’s development and use of Bio-Fabric throughout the interior. A plant-based fabric that is partially made from corn, Bio-Fabric not only feels soft and comfortable, but has excellent durability and is resistant to fading from sunlight. Honda anticipates expanding the use of its Bio-Fabric to new models beginning in 2009.

But the big question of course with this new fuel cell vehicle is will it ever reach production? Well the future is closer than you think as a production model based on the FCX Concept is in the development stage for release in 2008. And though the FCX Concept is cutting edge and vastly improved, the previous model FCX has had real world testing since 2002 through leases to the Japanese Government and the City of Los Angeles. Honda is using feedback from these leased vehicles to improve on its technology and get it closer to mass production. But the other trick in getting this future model to market is working with oil companies and municipalities to create an infrastructure to support such fuel cell vehicles. What good is having an emission free vehicle if there is no place to fill it up? Well to cover all bases, Honda is developing a Home Energy Station (HES), that uses the natural gas coming into a home, and converts it into electricity, hot water and heat for that home, as well as hydrogen fuel for the homeowners fuel cell vehicle. A zero-carbon solar powered hydrogen station is also being developed.

Seeing and driving the FCX Concept was a breath of fresh air. The car is a breakthrough in technology, style, comfort and sophistication. It is exciting to know that the vehicle is on track for production and release in 2008. And it is so comforting to know that an auto company is striving ahead so vigorously in its products to curb greenhouse gas emissions and ensure energy sustainability. Hats off to Honda and all companies and individuals working to use renewable sources of energy.

For additional Automotive Rhythms Alternative Fuel information, see: